If your identity has been stolen, you will quickly find that theft of identity can be a challenge to overcome without an attorney. I recommend you contact an attorney knowledgeable in theft of identity and credit laws to help you through this difficult time. Some general information is provided below. This is provided for informational purposes and may or may not apply to your situation.
If you think your private information has been compromised, you should do four things right away.
First Step – Theft of Identity – Get Your Credit Reports
See how to order your reports under Correcting Your Credit above. It is important for you to review the “tradeline” section and the “inquiry” section of your reports. The tradeline section shows the payment histories of established accounts, i.e. accounts where credit has been granted (e.g. credit card companies, car loans etc.). It can take weeks or even several months for opened accounts to appear in the tradeline of a credit report. The time lag happens because credit card companies and loan companies only report monthly.
The credit inquiry section of a credit report is the most important section to find out what is happening to your credit. This shows what companies have pulled your credit report. The credit inquiry section will show on your credit report as a credit inquiry almost immediately. From the credit inquiry section, you can get a good idea of any accounts that may appear on the tradeline in the next few weeks (after the lag period mentioned above). You can see if there are any patterns to the inquiries. If you don’t have recent inquiries you might rest a little easier, although theft of identity is still possible ( for instance for checking accounts, someone assuming your identity to apply for a job etc.). If you see many applications, but the accounts never appear in the tradeline, there is a possibility the thief was turned down for credit in your name.
Chronologically, the next credit report section that is involved in the theft of identity timeline is the collection accounts (these accounts are separate on Equifax reports and blended with tradelines on Experian and Trans Union reports). Generally, credit companies charge off delinquent accounts after six months and when they do, they send it to collection agencies (although they can and are assigned much earlier). The result of bad checks from a fraud related bank account may start appearing on the credit report (under the collection account section) a few months after the fraud (since most states require notices to be issued to the last known address of the consumer) and have been known to pop up years later. There is some possibility a judgment may be taken against the defrauder using your name. A judgment will usually appear on the credit report over six months later.
In sum, by looking at the credit report you can tell the likelihood you are a victim and, if so, the scope and timeframe of the fraud (and whether the defrauder is still applying for credit). Inquiries will show immediately, tradelines will show a few weeks later, collection accounts a few months later, checking accounts a few months or years later and judgments months or years later.
SECOND STEP – ORDER A FRAUD ALERT. If you think you are a theft of identity victim, this may actually be your first step. The fraud alert discloses a phone number you provide and asks any creditor opening a credit account to call that number before opening a credit account. Using this technique can be a problem if you move or change your number. Supposedly, contacting one credit reporting bureau will list the alert on all reports (however, out of caution, you should contact each). There are two types of fraud alerts. An Initial Alert stays on your report for 90 days. An Extended Alert stays on your report for seven years. To have an Extended Alert implemented, you will have to provide an affidavit of fraud (below).
THIRD STEP – GET A POLICE REPORT. This can be difficult with some police departments. If all you can get is a case opened without a report, be sure to get the report number and the name of the police officer taking your report. This way you can refer anyone conducting an investigation into the reporting of your credit over to the proper person. If the police department refuses to accept a report, be sure to memorialize this in writing (e.g. “this letter is to confirm you will not take my report of crime of theft of identity against me . . .”). Some extremely abusive credit card companies insist on the police report where the credit card company extended credit to a family member who does not want to do this to a family member. If this situation applies to you, it is important that you contact an attorney to give advice on what to do.
FOURTH STEP – COMPLETE AFFIDAVIT OF FRAUD. The Federal Trade Commission helped put together an affidavit of fraud that all the credit reporting bureaus accept. The FTC affidavit is available at www.MyFairCredit.com.
FIFTH STEP – DISPUTE. Dispute the Accounts in Writing. See Correcting Your Credit. It’s important to send your disputes to the credit reporting bureaus in addition to the duped creditors. Check the section Correcting Your Credit above.
Additional Steps That May Apply.
- Opt Out of Prescreening. As part of the same procedure, you may want to consider opting out of credit offers. Credit reporting bureaus sell some of your information to companies that then mail you offers. If you use a rural mailbox or the place you receive mail is not secure, this is a problem. You can eliminate these mailings even if you aren’t a victim of fraud. The number to opt out is 888 567 8688 (888-5Opt-Out).
- Credit Freeze. Some states allow you to put a freeze on your credit that allows you to turn on and off the ability to apply for credit. This is not an item covered under the Fair Credit Reporting Act so you will have to check your own state’s laws regarding this.
- Checking Account Theft of Identity. The most hard-to-resolve issues for victims of theft of identity happen when the thief is able to obtain a checking account in the identity of the victim. Hundreds of checks can be issues that in turn may involve many collection agencies. In addition, there are companies that guarantee checks that appear in almost every case of checking account fraud. These companies are merging and being sold, so you may have to check if the number has been disconnected. These companies are as follows:
TeleCheck: (800) 366-2425, www.telecheck.com.
Other Places You Can Find Help.
- Department of Motor Vehicles. Someone may have obtained a drivers license using your identity. Check with your state licensing agency.
- U.S. Postal Service. If mail theft or a bogus change of address card was submitted, the U.S. Postal Inspector should be contacted. http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/welcome.htm
- Social Security Administration. If your social security number has been used by an identity thief, contact the SSA Fraud Hotline (800) 269-0271, PO Box 17768 Baltimore, MD 21235; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Federal Trade Commission. ID Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTheft(438-4338); ID Theft Clearinghouse, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20580.
- State Attorney’s General. Especially good at providing you information on your state. The National Association of Attorneys General has contact information on all state’s Attorneys General. Check at www.myfaircredit.com for a list of attorneys general.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Regulates and enforces consumer financial products. Lots of focus on military.
Preventing Theft of Identity. (From King County Prosecutor’s Office – Fraud Division “Protect Yourself From Identity Theft”)
- Car prowl is a prime source for identity theft. Thieves know to look in merchandise bags for credit receipts – which often print your credit card number.
- Have your mail delivered to a secure location. Mail box theft is another common source for identity thieves. Your credit card bill has everything a criminal needs to make purchases by telephone or on the Internet.
- Don’t put bill payments in your unlocked mailbox for postal pickup.
- Carefully review your account statements and credit bills. Contest any unauthorized items or entries.
- Don’t give out personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call. Identity thieves can pose as representatives of banks, ISPs, collection agencies, government agencies, etc. to get you to reveal your account numbers, passwords, SSN, or mother’s maiden name.
- Never use a debit card or check when shopping online. Once stolen from your account, it can be difficult to recover your money. Consider using one credit card only for your online purchases. Use a secure browser when sending credit card numbers over the Internet. Review your bill carefully as soon as you get it. Contest unauthorized charges.
- Keep a list of all your credit/debit cards, card numbers, and issuer phone numbers. This will facilitate your reports to creditors/banks if your purse/wallet is stolen.
- Memorize your ATM password. Never store the password in your purse or wallet.
- Shred your financial garbage. Including credit receipts, pre-approved credit offers, credit checks. Cross-cut shredders are best.
- Cancel unused credit cards and charge accounts.
- Be stingy with your SSN. Don’t give it out to everyone who asks. Make thoughtful decisions regarding whether the requester really needs it. Ask to use other types of personal identifiers.
- Do not print your SSN or drivers license number on your checks. Take only the number of checks you will need on a given day. Keep pads of blank checks in a safe place.
- Never carry anything with your SSN on it. If your health insurance card shows your S SN, ask your insurer for a new card without the SSN. Until you get your new insurance card, carry it only when you need to use it.
- Prevent credit reporting agencies from selling your name, SSN, address and credit rating. Merchants who want to offer you credit cards or sell you merchandise buy your financial information. This is a source for personal information that can ultimately be published on the Internet. Contact the “Opt out” option of all credit reporting agencies.
- Prevent your creditors and identity clearinghouses from selling or “sharing” your personal information.
- Your creditors generally sell or “share” your name, address, SSN, financial information, spending and bill paying habits unless you tell them not to. This information often finds its way to clearinghouses for personal information, and to the Internet. Find sample letters preventing disclosure at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, www.privacyrights.org and JUNKBUSTERS, www.junkbusters.com. Clearinghouses and other publishers of personal information are listed below.
- Obtain and review your credit reports regularly. Check all three major credit reporting agencies. Dispute incorrect information. Be sure the agency has a correct address for you, especially if you have moved or suspect your identity has been stolen. Contact information for credit reporting agencies is below.
The impact of credit scoring is major and getting bigger every day. Credit scores are basically consumer reports reduced to numbers using a very complex equation devised by different companies. Statisticians have gone through data of people who defaulted on their loans and determined what happened before default. The results are factored into an algorithm that creates a credit score number using your credit report and assign you a number based on what is allegedly your likelihood of default.
In 1989 Fair Issac Corporation and Equifax jointly developed the most widely used credit scoring system, called the “FICO score”. The scoring system ranges from 300 to 850. Generally speaking, the best deals go to those with a score of around 770 and higher. The median score is 725 and a score below the mid-600s will likely put someone in the “sub-prime” market. The interest rates demanded in the sub-prime market are higher. Frontline: The Secret History of the Credit Card (2004). You can find your credit score at www.myfico.com (for a fee).
According to Fair Issac Corporation, the credit score is determined by weighing the following factors – payment history – 35%; length of credit history – 15%; new credit – 10%; types of credit used – 10%; amounts owed – 30%.
Experian uses the FICO score. Trans Union used the “Empirica Score” and Equifax uses a “Beacon Score.” The Empira and Beacon scores were also created by Fair Issac Company. A certain score for home loans is now required by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae if the loan is to be sold into the secondary market. The scores are also used for credit cards. Since the algorithms that create the score are considered proprietary, you may only get a vague sense of why you were denied credit. The growth of credit scoring limits the effectiveness of other methods of disputing credit reports such as statements of dispute. The statements will not be factored into the equation.
Problems with Credit Scoring:
- Inaccuracy of information going to CRA’s – Information being provided by furnishers to CRAs can be inaccurate. I’ve seen many furnishers not know very basic information about the format used to report to the CRAs and many knowingly report inaccurate information such as the date of first delinquency because of the prevalence of credit scoring and importance for a consumer to resolve issues with their credit report before a loan will go through;
- Phony criteria – Such bogus evaluations as being over 50 percent of available balance, credit inquiries and other silly criteria, make consumers just arrange their affairs inconformity with the credit scoring methodology and not true creditworthiness;
- Predictive value – to the extent the credit scoring methodology is accurate, it is relying on low hanging fruit – i.e. a person with balances due on a multiple collection accounts could be easily predicted without relying on a phony scoring system. If a person misses a couple credit card payments because he leaves the country frequently or is inefficient in his bill paying, how does that predict his creditworthiness if he has a million dollars in the bank? The credit reporting agencies only have a fraction of the information necessary to judge your creditworthiness. They don’t have (thank goodness) information on your bank account balances, your salary, your equity in rental property etc. Credit granting decisions are best made by an underwriter who has all this information. An evaluation of creditworthiness can be made by any competent lender in a few seconds if they have all this information in front of them. Because people want to believe they can predict what will happen or what likely will happen with regard to a consumer seeks a loan, just as there is a market for astrologers and psychics, there will be a market for this information, but a credit score is less predictive of creditworthiness than commons sense and experience.