What to do About Identity Theft

Identity thieves can wreak havoc on your credit report and your life, and the Federal Trade Commission has a very useful informational packet designed to help victims get their lives back in order. Some highlights from that packet describing what victims of identity theft should do immediately after realizing they've been victimized are as follows:

1. Have a credit reporting company place an Initial Fraud Alert on your report. This is easy to do, it lasts for 30 days, and it will make it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. This can be initiated online at each of the credit reporting companies websites, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

2. Although not emphasized in the FTC's packet, identity theft victims should immediately change PIN numbers and online passwords to all financial accounts. The password to the email addresses used to reset online financial account passwords should itself be updated.

3. Order copies of your credit reports, review the reports for unauthorized charges or accounts, and contact any businesses related to the problem accounts. Placing the Initial Fraud Alert entitles you to a free credit report immediately. The FTC packet has sample letters that can be sent to businesses alerting them of the identity theft.

4. Contact appropriate government agencies. Income tax fraud is popular at this time of year; the IRS's Form 14039 can used to report identity theft to the IRS. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the "leading federal law enforcement agency in the investigation of identity takeovers," has a complaint form located here. Contact your state's attorney general office as well.

5. Create an Identity Theft Report. This consists of two separate documents; first is an Identity Theft Affidavit that can be generated online with the FTC's Complaint Assistant. The Identity Theft Affidavit should be taken to your local police station, along with documentation of the theft, photo ID, and proof of address. Use this information to file a police report; the police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit together constitute an Identity Theft Report. Keep track of your police report number and Identity Theft Affidavit number.

After these steps have been taken, next comes the long process of clearing up your credit report, closing fraudulent accounts, ensuring that businesses remove fraudulent charges, and taking legal action where necessary. The FTC is a good resource for these steps as well.