How can someone steal your identity? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.
If you think your identity has been stolen, here's what to do now:
In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, change service providers for your cell phone, or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don't give these everyday transactions a second thought. But an identity thief does.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of a good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, or cars, and even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit. Humiliation, anger, and frustration are among the feelings victims experience as they navigate the process of rescuing their identity.
Working with other government agencies and organizations, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has produced this booklet to help you remedy the effects of an identity theft. It describes what steps to take, your legal rights, how to handle specific problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, and what to watch for in the future.
HOW IDENTITY THEFT OCCURS
Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data.
How identity thieves get your personal information:
How identity thieves use your personal information:
If Your Personal Information Has Been Lost or Stolen
If you've lost personal information or identification, or if it has been stolen from you, taking certain steps quickly can minimize the potential for identity theft.
Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit cards and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number (SSN) or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. An alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name. See consumer reporting company contact information. For more information about fraud alerts, see the Fraud Alerts box.
Driver's license/other government-issued identification: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name.
Once you've taken these precautions, watch for signs that your information is being misused. See STAYING ALERT.
If your information has been misused, file a report about the theft with the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, as well. If another crime was committed for example, if your purse or wallet was stolen or your house or car was broken into report it to the police immediately.
IDENTITY THEFT VICTIMS: IMMEDIATE STEPS
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your SSN will appear on your credit reports.Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that information, like your SSN, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. See Correcting Credit Reports to learn how. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.
When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or on fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions:
Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best proof if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.
Then, get a copy of the police report or at the very least, the number of the report. It can help you deal with creditors who need proof of the crime. If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incidents" report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number or check www.naag.org for a list of state Attorneys General.
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.
You can file a complaint online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. If you don't have Internet access, call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653- 4261; or write: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.
The Identity Theft Report
An identity theft report may have two parts:
Part One is a copy of a report filed with a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency, like your local police department, your State Attorney General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the FTC, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. There is no federal law requiring a federal agency to take a report about identity theft; however, some state laws require local police departments to take reports. When you file a report, provide as much information as you can about the crime, including anything you know about the dates of the identity theft, the fraudulent accounts opened and the alleged identity thief.
Note: Knowingly submitting false information could subject you to criminal prosecution for perjury.
Part Two of an identity theft report depends on the policies of the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company). That is, they may ask you to provide information or documentation in addition to that included in the law enforcement report which is reasonably intended to verify your identity theft. They must make their request within 15 days of receiving your law enforcement report, or, if you already obtained an extended fraud alert on your credit report, the date you submit your request to the credit reporting company for information blocking. The consumer reporting company and information provider then have 15 more days to work with you to make sure your identity theft report contains everything they need. They are entitled to take five days to review any information you give them. For example, if you give them information 11 days after they request it, they do not have to make a final decision until 16 days after they asked you for that information. If you give them any information after the 15-day deadline, they can reject your identity theft report as incomplete; you will have to resubmit your identity theft report with the correct information.
You may find that most federal and state agencies, and some local police departments, offer only "automated" reports a report that does not require a face-to-face meeting with a law enforcement officer. Automated reports may be submitted online, or by telephone or mail. If you have a choice, do not use an automated report. The reason? It's more difficult for the consumer reporting company or information provider to verify the information. Unless you are asking a consumer reporting company to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, you probably will have to provide additional information or documentation when you use an automated report.
Chart Your Course of Action [PDF version of form]
Use this form to record the steps you've taken to report the fraudulent use of your identity. Keep this list in a safe place for reference.
Nationwide Consumer Reporting Companies - Report Fraud
Banks, Credit Card Issuers and
Law Enforcement Authorities - Report Identity Theft
RESOLVING SPECIFIC PROBLEMS
While dealing with problems resulting from identity theft can be time-consuming and frustrating, most victims can resolve their cases by being assertive, organized, and knowledgeable about their legal rights. Some laws require you to notify companies within specific time periods. Don't delay in contacting any companies to deal with these problems, and ask for supervisors if you need more help than you're getting.
Bank Accounts and Fraudulent Withdrawals
Different laws determine your legal remedies based on the type of bank fraud you have suffered. For example, state laws protect you against fraud committed by a thief using paper documents, like stolen or counterfeit checks. But if the thief used an electronic fund transfer, federal law applies. Many transactions may seem to be processed electronically but are still considered "paper" transactions. If you're not sure what type of transaction the thief used to commit the fraud, ask the financial institution that processed the transaction.
Fraudulent Electronic Withdrawals
The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.
You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is "skimmed" that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.
If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.
Note: VISA and MasterCard voluntarily have agreed to limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.
The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing by certified letter, return receipt requested so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.
After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation. For more information, see Electronic Banking and Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What To Do If They're Lost or Stolen.
Fraudulent Checks and Other "Paper" Transactions
In general, if an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of "paper" transaction such as a demand draft, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:
If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be
because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character
Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver's
license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects
your check should give you its check verification company contact
information so you can
Fraudulent New Accounts
If you have trouble opening a new checking account, it may be because an identity thief has been opening accounts in your name. Chex Systems, Inc., produces consumer reports specifically about checking accounts, and as a consumer reporting company, is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can request a free copy of your consumer report by contacting Chex Systems, Inc. If you find inaccurate information on your consumer report, follow the procedures under Correcting Credit Reports to dispute it. Contact each of the banks where account inquiries were made, too. This will help ensure that any fraudulently opened accounts are closed.
Where to Find Help
If you have trouble getting a financial institution to help you resolve your banking-related identity theft problems, including problems with bank-issued credit cards, contact the agency that oversees your bank (see list below). If you're not sure which of these agencies is the right one, call your bank or visit the National Information Center of the Federal Reserve System at www.ffiec.gov/nic/ and click on "Institution Search."
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) www.fdic.gov
The FDIC supervises state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System, and insures deposits at banks and savings and loans.
Call the FDIC Consumer Call Center toll-free: 1-800-934-3342; or write: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs, 550 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20429.
Federal Reserve System (Fed) www.federalreserve.gov
The Fed supervises state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System.
Call: 202-452-3693; or write: Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Mail Stop 801, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC 20551; or contact the Federal Reserve Bank in your area. The Reserve Banks are located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco.
National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) www.ncua.gov
The NCUA charters and supervises federal credit unions and insures deposits at federal credit unions and many state credit unions.
Call: 703-518-6360; or write: Compliance Officer, National Credit Union Administration, 1775 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) www.occ.treas.gov
The OCC charters and supervises national banks. If the word "national" appears in the name of a bank, or the initials "N.A." follow its name, the OCC oversees its operations.
Call toll-free: 1-800-613-6743 (business days 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. CST); fax: 713-336-4301; or write: Customer Assistance Group, 1301 McKinney Street, Suite 3710, Houston, TX 77010.
Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) www.ots.treas.gov
The OTS is the primary regulator of all federal, and many state-chartered, thrift institutions, including savings banks and savings and loan institutions.
Call: 202-906-6000; or write: Office of Thrift Supervision, 1700 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20552.
U. S. Trustee (UST) www.usdoj.gov/ust
If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A list of the U.S. Trustee Programs' Regional Offices is available on the UST website, or check the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government Bankruptcy Administration.
In your letter, describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The U.S. Trustee will make a criminal referral to law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed. The U.S. Trustee does not provide legal representation, legal advice, or referrals to lawyers. That means you may need to hire an attorney to help convince the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent. The U.S. Trustee does not provide consumers with copies of court documents. You can get them from the bankruptcy clerk's office for a fee.
Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report and requires that your report be made available only for certain legitimate business needs.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
Consumer Reporting Company Obligations
Consumer reporting companies will block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report if you take the following steps: Send them a copy of an identity theft report and a letter telling them what information is fraudulent. The letter also should state that the information does not relate to any transaction that you made or authorized. In addition, provide proof of your identity that may include your SSN, name, address, and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company.
The consumer reporting company has four business days to block the fraudulent information after accepting your identity theft report. It also must tell the information provider that it has blocked the information. The consumer reporting company may refuse to block the information or remove the block if, for example, you have not told the truth about your identity theft. If the consumer reporting company removes the block or refuses to place the block, it must let you know.
The blocking process is only one way for identity theft victims to deal with fraudulent information. There's also the "reinvestigation process," which was designed to help all consumers dispute errors or inaccuracies on their credit reports. For more information on this process, see How to Dispute Credit Report Errors and Your Access to Free Credit Reports, two publications from the FTC.
Information Provider Obligations
Information providers stop reporting fraudulent information to the consumer reporting companies once you send them an identity theft report and a letter explaining that the information that they're reporting resulted from identity theft. But you must send your identity theft report and letter to the address specified by the information provider. Note that the information provider may continue to report the information if it later learns that the information does not result from identity theft.
If a consumer reporting company tells an information provider that it has blocked fraudulent information in your credit report, the information provider may not continue to report that information to the consumer reporting company. The information provider also may not hire someone to collect the debt that relates to the fraudulent account, or sell that debt to anyone else who would try to collect it.
The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts. The law also limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. To take advantage of the law's consumer protections, you must:
You should send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. It becomes your proof of the date the creditor received the letter. Include copies (NOT originals) of your police report or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.
Procedures to correct your record within criminal justice databases can vary from state to state, and even from county to county. Some states have enacted laws with special procedures for identity theft victims to follow to clear their names. You should check with the office of your state Attorney General, but you can use the following information as a general guide.
If wrongful criminal violations are attributed to your name, contact the police or sheriff's department that originally arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report with the police/sheriff's department or the court, and confirm your identity: Ask the police department to take a full set of your fingerprints, photograph you, and make a copies of your photo identification documents, like your driver's license, passport, or travel visa. To establish your innocence, ask the police to compare the prints and photographs with those of the imposter.
If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated.
The law enforcement agency should then recall any warrants and issue a "clearance letter" or "certificate of release" (if you were arrested/booked). You'll need to keep this document with you at all times in case you're wrongly arrested again. Ask the law enforcement agency to file the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence with the district attorney's (D.A.) office and/or court where the crime took place. This will result in an amended complaint. Once your name is recorded in a criminal database, it's unlikely that it will be completely removed from the official record. Ask that the "key name" or "primary name" be changed from your name to the imposter's name (or to "John Doe" if the imposter's true identity is not known), with your name noted as an alias.
You'll also want to clear your name in the court records. To do so, you'll need to determine which state law(s) will help you with this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.'s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.'s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name. You may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.
Finally, contact your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out if your driver's license is being used by the identity thief. Ask that your files be flagged for possible fraud.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for collection, even if those bills don't result from identity theft.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you in two ways:
If you don't have documentation to support your position, be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. The debt collector is responsible for sending you proof that you're wrong. For example, if the debt you're disputing originates from a credit card you never applied for, ask for a copy of the application with the applicant's signature. Then, you can prove that it's not your signature.
If you tell the debt collector that you are a victim of identity theft and it is collecting the debt for another company, the debt collector must tell that company that you may be a victim of identity theft.
While you can stop a debt collector from contacting you, that won't get rid of the debt itself. It's important to contact the company that originally opened the account to dispute the debt, otherwise that company may send it to a different debt collector, report it on your credit report, or initiate a lawsuit to collect on the debt.
For more information, see Fair Debt Collection, a publication from the FTC.
If you think your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or a non-driver's ID card, contact your state DMV. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) www.sec.gov
The SEC's Office of Investor Education and Assistance serves investors who complain to the SEC about investment fraud or the mishandling of their investments by securities professionals. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the SEC.
You can file a complaint with the SEC's Complaint Center at www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml. Include as much detail as possible. If you don't have Internet access, write to the SEC at: SEC Office of Investor Education and Assistance, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Washington DC, 20549-0213. For answers to general questions, call 202-942-7040.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect
The USPIS is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, and investigates cases of identity theft. The USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers, or tax information, or has falsified change-of-address forms or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it to your local postal inspector.
You can locate the USPIS district office nearest you by calling your local post office, checking the Blue Pages of your telephone directory, or visiting www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.
United States Department of State (USDS) www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html
If you've lost your passport, or believe it was stolen or is being used fraudulently, contact the USDS through their website, or call a local USDS field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
If an identity thief has established phone service in your name, is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from and are billed to your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs. If you're having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account or getting an unauthorized account closed, contact the appropriate agency below.
Social Security Number Misuse
Social Security Administration (SSA) www.ssa.gov
If you have specific information of SSN misuse that involves the buying or selling of Social Security cards, may be related to terrorist activity, or is designed to obtain Social Security benefits, contact the SSA Office of the Inspector General. You may file a complaint online at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig, call toll-free: 1-800-269-0271, fax: 410-597-0118, or write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.
You also may call SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, request a copy of your Social Security Statement, or get a replacement SSN card if yours is lost or stolen. Follow up in writing.
Contact the school or program that opened the student loan to close the loan. At the same time, report the fraudulent loan to the U.S. Department of Education. Call the Inspector General's Hotline toll-free at 1-800-MIS-USED; visit www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/hotline.html?src=rt; or write: Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-1510.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) www.treas.gov/irs/ci
The IRS is responsible for administering and enforcing tax laws. Identity fraud may occur as it relates directly to your tax records. Visit www.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word ?Identity Theft? for more information.
If you have an unresolved issue related to identity theft, or you have suffered or are about to suffer a significant hardship as a result of the administration of the tax laws, visit the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service website www.irs.gov/advocate/ or call toll-free: 1-877-777-4778.
If you suspect or know of an individual or company that is not complying with the tax law, report it to the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Informant Hotline by calling toll-free: 1-800-829-0433 or visit www.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word ?Tax Fraud.?
For More Information
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) www.ftc.gov
The FTC wants consumers and businesses to know about the importance of personal information privacy. To request free copies of brochures, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
Department of Justice (DOJ) www.usdoj.gov
The DOJ and its U.S. Attorneys prosecute federal identity theft cases. Information on identity theft is available at www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) www.fbi.gov
The FBI, a criminal law enforcement agency, investigates cases of identity theft. The FBI recognizes that identity theft is a component of many crimes, including bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, insurance fraud, fraud against the government, and terrorism. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
U.S. Secret Service (USSS) www.treas.gov/usss
The U.S. Secret Service investigates financial crimes, which may include identity theft. Although the Secret Service generally investigates cases where the dollar loss is substantial, your information may provide evidence of a larger pattern of fraud requiring their involvement. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
Financial Crimes Division www.treas.gov/usss/financial_crimes.shtml
Once resolved, most cases of identity theft stay resolved. But occasionally, some victims have recurring problems. To help stay on top of the situation, continue to monitor your credit reports and read your financial account statements promptly and carefully. You may want to review your credit reports once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. And stay alert for other signs of identity theft, like:
Getting Your Credit Report
Free Annual Credit Reports
A recent amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months.
Free reports are being phased in during a nine-month period, rolling from states in the West to the states in the East. Beginning September 1, 2005, free reports will be accessible to all Americans, regardless of where they live.
To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The form is at the back of this brochure; or you can print it from www.ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. They provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com, 877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
For more information, see Your Access to Free Credit Reports, a publication from the FTC.
Other Consumer Rights to Free Reports
Under federal law, you're entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company. You're also entitled to one free report a year if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; you're on welfare; or your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a consumer reporting company may charge you up to $9.50 for another copy of your report within a 12-month period.
To buy a copy of your report, contact:
Under state law, consumers in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont already have free access to their credit reports.
When it comes to identity theft, you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim. But there are certain steps you can take to minimize recurrences.
What To Do Today
You may be careful about locking your doors and windows, and keeping your personal papers in a secure place. Depending on what you use your personal computer for, an identity thief may not need to set foot in your house to steal your personal information. You may store your SSN, financial records, tax returns, birth date, and bank account numbers on your computer. These tips can help you keep your computer - and the personal information it stores - safe.
For more information, see Site-Seeing on the Internet: A Traveler's Guide to Cyberspace, a publication from the FTC.
It's The Law
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, enacted by Congress in October 1998 (and codified, in part, at 18 U.S.C. ?1028) makes identity theft a federal crime.
Under federal criminal law, identity theft takes place when someone "knowingly transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."
Under this definition, a name or Social Security number is considered a "means of identification." So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number, or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.
Violations of the federal crime are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General. Federal identity theft cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
For the purposes of the law, the FCRA defines identity theft to apply to consumers and businesses.
Many states have passed laws making identity theft a crime or providing help in recovery from identity theft; others are considering such legislation. Where specific criminal identity theft laws do not exist, the practices may be prohibited under other laws. Contact your state Attorney General (for a list of state offices, visit www.naag.org) or local consumer protection agency for laws related to identity theft, or visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
Annual Credit Report Request Form [PDF only]
When you contact us with complaints or requests for information, you can do it online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft; by telephone, toll-free at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); or by mail: Federal Trade Commission, Identity Theft Clearinghouse, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. Before you contact us, there are a few things you should know.
We enter the information you send into the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, an electronic database. The Clearinghouse is a system of records covered under the Privacy Act of 1974. In general, the Privacy Act prohibits unauthorized disclosures of the records it protects. It also gives individuals the right to review records about themselves. Learn more about your Privacy Act rights and the FTC's Privacy Act procedures by contacting the FTC's Freedom of Information Act Office: 202-326-2430; www.ftc.gov/foia/privacy_act.htm.
The information you submit is shared with FTC attorneys and investigators. It also may be shared with employees of various federal, state, or local law enforcement or regulatory authorities. The FTC also may share your information with some private entities, such as consumer reporting companies and any companies you may have complained about, where it believes that doing so might help resolve identity theft-related problems. You may be contacted by the FTC or any of the agencies or private entities to whom your complaint has been referred. In some limited circumstances, including requests from Congress, the FTC may be required by law to disclose information you submit.
You have the option to submit your information anonymously. However, if you do not provide your name and contact information, law enforcement agencies and other organizations will not be able to contact you for more information to help in identity theft investigations and prosecutions.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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