Identity Theft: What To Do If It Happens To You

Act immediately and responsibly.

As soon as you realize your identity has been stolen, you must act quickly to minimize any damage done to your finances and your personal credit record.  Swift action may prevent the thief from making further use of your identity and may make the process of restoring your credit rating easier.  Please read this important information to help you proceed effectively.  In addition to the information on our site, you will find good advice on the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) web site, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity.  You can reach the FTC Identity Theft Clearinghouse at 877-438-4338.

Place an Initial Fraud Alert on your credit file.

Contact one of the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit file.  You only need to contact one of the agencies – that company must notify the other credit reporting agencies about your alert.

An initial fraud alert will make it more difficult for the identity thief to open more accounts using your information.  After an alert is placed on your credit file, a business must contact you and verify your identity before it can issue credit in your name.  Make sure that the credit reporting agencies have your current contact information so that they can get in touch with you as necessary. 

Placing an initial fraud alert is free.  The initial alert stays on your report for 90 days and allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

Request your credit reports.

Remember that putting an initial fraud alert on your credit file entitles you to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies.  Contact each agency, explain that you may have been the victim of identity theft, that you have placed an initial fraud alert on your file and would like to order a copy of your credit report.  It is beneficial to obtain a copy of your credit report from each agency as items may be reported differently on each agency’s report.

Create an Identity Theft Report.

An identity theft report will help you when dealing with law enforcement officials, credit reporting agencies and creditors.  You can use it to get information about the accounts the identity thief opened or misused, to have fraudulent information removed from your credit report, to stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, or to place an extended fraud alert on your file.

To create an Identity Theft Report:

  1. Submit a complaint online to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  After you submit your information, you will receive a complaint reference number.  Keep this number in a safe place, because you will need it if you need to update your complaint.  Submission of your complaint to the FTC will generate an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit that you should save or print (when you complete the complaint online, look for and click on the words “Click here to get your completed FTC identity theft affidavit”).  Make sure to save or print the Affidavit before you leave the screen, because you cannot save or print it after leaving the screen.

You may also file a complaint with the FTC over the phone by calling 1-877-438-4338 or 1-866-653-4261 (TTY).  Make sure to ask the representative that takes your call for your complaint reference number and Affidavit password so you can access your completed Affidavit online.

Another option is to fill out an Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit Form manually and use it when reporting the identity theft to the police, credit reporting agencies, or businesses.

  1. File a police report with your local police agency.  In Georgia, identity theft is a felony under Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 16-9-121. 

Provide the police a copy of your Identity Theft Affidavit, any other proof of the theft, proof of your address and a copy of a government issued photo ID.  You may also wish to provide officials with a copy of the FTC’s Memo to Law Enforcement, which explains to law enforcement officials how identity theft reports are important to victims.  Make sure to request a copy of the police report or the report number to keep with your personal records. 

The FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and police report, together, make up your Identity Theft Report.

Review your credit reports.

Carefully review your credit reports.  Check all key information, such as your name, address, social security number and employers.  Also look for unauthorized charges, accounts that you did not open and any credit activity that is unfamiliar to you.  Pay particular attention to the inquiry section of the credit report.  This section may give you clues as to which companies may be considering a credit application falsely submitted in your name.  Inquiries are usually posted to your credit report before the actual false accounts appear and may represent the most current fraudulent activity.

Dispute errors:  If you see errors on your credit report, dispute them.  Anyone can dispute incorrect information on their credit report by sending letters explaining the inaccuracy and requesting that the information be removed from your file.  The dispute letters should be sent to:

-   The three national credit reporting agencies

-   The fraud department of any business that reported an erroneous transaction on your existing accounts

-   The fraud department of any business that reported a new account opened in your name but which you did not authorize

Once the credit reporting agency receives your dispute, it will contact the business that reported the disputed information to investigate and determine whether the information is correct.  The agency has 30 days from when it receives your dispute to complete its investigation and must then notify you of the results of the investigation.

If the credit reporting agency determines the disputed information is inaccurate, incomplete or cannot be verified, the agency must delete that information from your file and notify you.  If information is deleted from your credit report, it cannot be reinserted unless the business reporting the information certifies the information is complete and accurate, and the credit reporting agency notifies you of the reinsertion. 

The error may simply be a reporting mistake of the credit reporting agency or of the business that reported the information.  However, the error may mean that a thief has stolen your identity and is using your information to open new credit in your name.  If the errors are the result of identity theft, create an Identity Theft Report and take steps to block the information from appearing on your credit report.

Block fraudulent information resulting from identity theft:  Credit reporting agencies should block identity theft related information from appearing on a victim’s credit report.  This includes unauthorized transactions, accounts and credit inquiries.  To request a block of fraudulent information, you must contact each credit reporting agency and provide:

-   A copy of your Identity Theft Report

-   Proof of your identity, including your name, address, and social security number

-   An explanation of what information on your report resulted from identity theft and a statement that the information did not come from a transaction that you made or approved.

-   A request that the agency block the fraudulent information

If the credit reporting agency accepts your Identity Theft Report and your blocking request, it must block the fraudulent information from your credit report within four days after accepting your Report and must tell the business that sent the fraudulent information about the block.

If the credit reporting agency rejects your request, it can take five days to ask you for more proof of the identity theft.  The agency has 15 more days to work with you to get the information and five days to review the additional information you send.  The agency may reject any information that you send after 15 days.  The agency must tell you if it will not block information.  You are allowed to re-submit your Identity Theft Report.

If you are an identity theft victim, it is important to block fraudulent information appearing on your credit report, because a block will keep businesses from collecting, selling or transferring the fraudulent debt in your name to a collection company. 

Alert individual businesses. 

Contact every business where an account was fraudulently opened or where your information was misused.  Also, contact any credit issuer or collection agency listed on your credit report and any that have attempted to contact you to collect the debt.  Ask each one about the status of your account.  Ask if the card issuer has received any unauthorized charges, a change-of-address request, or a request for additional or replacement credit cards.

For credit card companies, instruct the issuer not to honor any requests regarding your credit card account without written authorization.  Ask each credit card issuer to cancel your card and provide a replacement card with a new account number.  Your liability for unauthorized use of a credit card cannot be more than $50 by federal law.  Many creditors will waive the $50 if the victim provides documentation indicating identity theft (such as a police report or Identity Theft Report).

Immediately follow-up each telephone call with a letter that notifies the business in writing that you are a victim of identity theft.  Confirm in your letter any action the business has agreed to take.  As appropriate, include a copy of your Identity Theft Report and a letter explaining the disputed information that has been erroneously reported to your credit file.  Keep a copy of each letter in your file.

After the business receives your Identity Theft Report it should stop reporting the inaccurate information to the three national credit reporting agencies.  However, the business is still allowed to try to collect the debt and to sell or transfer the debt to a collection company.  In order to keep a business from collecting, selling or transferring a debt, you must contact the credit reporting agencies and ask them to block fraudulent information.

Contact your bank.

If your bank account information or checks have been stolen, or if a fraudulent bank account has been opened using your identification information, notify the bank involved immediately.

Close your legitimate bank accounts and request new account numbers.  Ask your bank to honor only the outstanding checks you can verify you wrote.  Or, contact companies with whom you have recently done business to explain why your check will not be honored.  Offer to replace the payment immediately with a money order or a check from your new account.

Ask the bank to use a new unique identifier as a password or security feature for your accounts.  Do not use your mother's maiden name, since this information is available in public records.  Get a new ATM card and PIN.  Do not use your old password or PIN.  Destroy all your old checks and do not use them.

If a merchant refuses your check and refers you to a check verification company (a third-party company which authorizes check cashing and checking accout priveleges), call the check verification company.  Explain that you are the victim of identity theft.  If you cannot open a checking account because of the thief’s activities, contact ChexSystems at 800-428-9623, which is used by a majority of banks to verify applicants for new accounts.

Alert the issuers of your various forms of identification. 

If you have lost your driver's license, or if you suspect that someone may be using your driver's license number or a license fraudulently obtained in your name, contact your local Driver’s License office (listed under "State Government" in your telephone directory).  In Georgia, you should get in touch with the Georgia Department of Driver Services.  Their contact information is:

Georgia Department of Driver Services
Special Issuance
P.O. Box 80447
Conyers, Georgia 30013
678-413-8400
Web site: www.dds.ga.gov

If you suspect that someone else is using your Social Security number for employment purposes, request a copy of your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement at 800-772-1213.  If the statement confirms a fraudulent use of your Social Security number, contact the U.S. Social Security Administration at 800-269-0271.  If your Social Security number has become associated with dishonored checks and bad credit as a result of identity fraud, it is possible in extreme cases to obtain a new Social Security number.  In order to do so, your situation must fit the Social Security Administration's criteria for issuing a second Social Security number.  Contact the Social Security Administration for these specific criteria.

If you have a passport, notify your local passport office that the identity thief may apply for a new passport using your identity.

Get copies of any documents the identity thief used.

Ask the business reporting the erroneous information to give you copies of any documents the identity thief used, such as credit cards applications with the “applicant’s” signature and transaction records.  Under federal law, the business must give you copies of these records for free within 30 days of receiving your request, and verifying your identity and your identity theft claim.  Provide copies of all documents received to the police officials investigating your case.

Additional Options

Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit file:  When a freeze is in place, credit reporting agencies may not release your credit file information to merchants unless you temporarily remove the freeze or provide an individualized password to allow a particular merchant to obtain your credit information.  A credit freeze means that creditors will not be able to get your credit information without your prior authorization, making it less likely that an identity thief will be able to open new accounts in your name.

In Georgia, residents can place a freeze on their credit file for $3, or a total of $9 to place a freeze at each of the three credit reporting agencies.  However, the freeze is free for senior citizens 65 and older and for victims of identity theft.  Even though a credit freeze keeps creditors from seeing your credit report information, you can temporarily lift the freeze – commonly called a credit thaw – to allow temporary access to your credit file.  When you request such a thaw, the information should be available electronically within 15 minutes of your requesting the thaw.  

Placing a freeze on your credit file does not affect your credit score.  Also, you can still get a free annual credit report and do anything else that requires a credit report, such as opening a new account, renting an apartment or applying for a job.

Consider placing an Extended Fraud Alert on your credit file:  Once you create an Identity Theft Report, you can place an Extended Fraud Alert on your credit file.  An extended alert is similar to an initial fraud alert except that it lasts for seven years unless you ask for the alert to be removed before the end of that period.

After an alert is placed on your credit file, a business must contact you and verify your identity before it can issue credit in your name.  Also, the extended alert will allow you to get two free credit reports within a 12-month period from each of the three credit reporting agencies.  Additionally, the agencies must take your name off of marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for five years unless you ask them to put your name back on the list.

Consider opening a post office box instead of having mail delivered to your mailbox.  If you suspect that an identity thief has stolen your mail or has filed a change-of-address request in your name, notify your local Postal Inspector.  Call the U.S. Postal Service at 800-275-8777 to obtain the phone number of the nearest Postal Inspector.

To assure at least a two-year moratorium on pre-approved credit card offers and other solicitations you receive, you can call 888-5-OPTOUT toll-free and request that the major credit-reporting companies remove your name and address from any and all marketing mailing lists and promotions.  Pre-approved credit card offers stolen from the mail often lead to identity theft.

Additional Tips:

  • Create a log of all telephone calls that you make to correct your credit file.  Keep a record of the date of each call and the names and telephone numbers of each person you spoke with.  Prepare a list of questions before you call and make sure to write down answers so you can refer to them later.  
  • Follow up each telephone call with a letter that confirms the conversation and any agreed-upon action.
  • Send letters and documents by certified mail return receipt requested.  This receipt will serve as your proof that you sent the paperwork.
  • Keep the originals of any documents or reports - send only copies.  
  • Create a filing system in which to orderly and safety keep all paperwork, letters, reports and other documentation exchanged.  In complex identity theft cases involving credit, banking and loan fraud, an expandable file with multiple compartments may be the best choice.  Consider keeping a "journal" of actions in a computer file that can be easily updated and printed when a copy is needed.  A well-kept log, file or chronology of your actions is a must, and could aid the police in stopping the thief.
  • Make a timeline in which you record all important dates and deadlines, such as when you must file requests, when a company must respond to you, etc.