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Identity theft

Q. What should I do if someone opens a credit card in my name?

You are, sad to say, part of a burgeoning industry. A recent General Accounting Office report estimates that as many as three-quarters of a million Americans fall victim to identity theft every year. And that stat is likely rather low. Some victims don't know they're being taken while others are too embarrassed to do anything about it.

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Here's a checklist of steps you should take to get your credit report cleared up:

1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit-reporting agencies and let them know you're an identity theft victim. That agency will notify the other two. A "fraud alert" will automatically be placed in each of your three credit reports within 24 hours. The alert notifies creditors not to issue new credit to you without gaining your permission. Not all creditors pay attention to these alerts. You must be vigilant for any new accounts. Additionally, have them attach a "victim's statement" that explains what happened to you. For your convenience, Bankrate has listed contact information for the major credit-reporting bureaus.

2. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Provide as much documentation as possible. Ask for a copy of the police report and send it to all your creditors and the credit-reporting agencies.

3. The Fair Credit Reporting Act lays down specific guidelines with which you can remove the illegal activity from your report. Call, then write each credit bureau and identify the inaccurate information. I'd also suggest attaching a copy of the court's ruling and the police report to support your position that, from a legal standpoint, you are in no way responsible for what took place. Provide your complete name and address and go into great detail about what you know to be wrong. If you have copies of the credit report -- which, as a fraud victim, must be provided you free of charge -- include copies that highlight the illegal activity you want removed. It's also a good idea to send all correspondence via certified mail and request a return receipt so you know when the bureaus received your material.

Credit-reporting agencies usually have 30 days in which to investigate your claim. They will also forward all information about your claim to whoever first provided the inaccurate information, such as a store. They, too, will investigate, then notify the credit bureau about their findings. If they find the information to be inaccurate, they must then notify all nationwide credit bureaus so that the misinformation can be corrected. The credit bureau must ultimately provide you with a written report outlining their findings. You are also entitled to a free copy of your report if there is any sort of change.

If you have an item corrected, make certain that the illegal activity doesn't have any further ramifications. Direct the credit bureau to provide updated copies of your credit report to anyone who's requested a copy in the past six months. In fact, job applicants can have a corrected copy sent to anyone who requested one for employment purposes within the past two years.

If, for whatever reason, a credit-reporting agency doesn't agree to remove the inaccurate information, make certain they include your statement of the dispute in your file and in future reports.

It's also a good idea to contact the creditors with whom the illegal activity took place. Again, write out your complaint and your position in detail and send copies of the police reports.

For additional information and guidelines, The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has a rather exhaustive booklet on identity theft.

You might also have a look at this identity theft story for more information.


-- Posted: April 25, 2003




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