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What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your 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 nationwide consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You need to contact only one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will then place an alert on their versions of your report.


  • 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 on your file, you're entitled to order free copies of your credit reports; if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number 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 Social Security number, address(es), and name or initials are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. 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.

Fraud Alerts

There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial alert and an extended alert.

An initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You may ask that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect you have been, or are about to be, a victim of identity theft.

  • An initial alert is appropriate if your wallet has been stolen or if you've been taken in by a "phishing" scam. Phishing occurs when scam artists steal personal information from you by sending email that claims to be from a legitimate company and says you have a problem with your account. When you place an initial fraud alert on your credit report, you're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.

  • An extended alert stays on your credit report for seven years. You can have an extended alert placed on your credit report if you've been a victim of identity theft and you provide the consumer reporting company with an "identity theft report." When you place an extended alert on your credit report, you're entitled to two free credit reports within twelve months, after placing the alert, from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. In addition, the consumer reporting companies will remove your name from marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for five years unless you ask them to put your name back on the list before then.

To place either of these alerts on your credit report, or to have them removed, you will be required to provide appropriate proof of your identity, which may include your SSN, name, address, and other personal information the consumer reporting company requests.

When a business sees the alert on your credit report, they must verify your identity before issuing you credit. As part of this verification process, the business may try to contact you directly. This may cause some delays if you're trying to obtain credit. To compensate for possible delays, you may wish to include a cell phone number, where you can be reached easily, in your alert. Remember to keep all contact information in your alert current.

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, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 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.

  • 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). They may ask you to provide information or documentation to verify your identity theft in addition to that included in the law enforcement report. They must make their request within 15 days of receiving your law enforcement report, or, if you already have 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 the 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, and you will have to resubmit it with the correct information.

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 if you use an automated report.

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, and request a return receipt 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 to your accounts, or to fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions. Also request the transaction records relating to the identity theft, such as the fraudulent credit application.

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 can help you if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt. 
 

File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

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.

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