This is Part 2 of our series on what to do if your identity is stolen. If you are the victim of identity theft, you must read Part 1 of our series, which outlines the first 5 steps you must make immediately to stop the damage to your credit.
This post is all about how to repair and recover your credit after you have stopped the bleeding.
The Next Steps – Recovery
Take a day to decompress if you want. But don’t wait too long. This next process is not going to be quick. You will have to be diligent about your contacts, and you will have to follow up. Keep that call log going, and keep copies of any letters or emails you send. Store all of this information somewhere safe for several years. We suggest you store this file with your taxes, which you are supposed to keep for 7 years. (You are keeping your taxes for 7 years, right?)
Step 1 – Close any new accounts opened in your name
Call the fraud departments of any business that opened a new account for you as a result of identity theft. They will all have their own processes to follow. You must follow their process to the letter and provide them with any information they need. Explain that someone stole your identity and provide them with a copy of your FTC report and/or police report. Ask them to close this account, remove it from your credit report, and mark it as fraudulent.
Demand a physical letter from them explaining that the account is closed, they are treating it as fraudulent, and you are not liable for it. Confirm it will be removed from your credit report (not marked as paid or satisfied, but actually removed). If they don’t send you one, you send them a letter demanding it and threatening to report them to the Federal Trade Commission and/or sue them for defamation of credit. Don’t lose this letter! Keep it with your taxes for 7 years in case this account pops up again.
Step 2 – Remove any bogus charges from your accounts
Contact the fraud department of each store where a charge was made on these fraudulent accounts. Explain that your identity was stolen. Provide them with a copy of your FTC and/or police reports. Identify exactly which charges are fraudulent. They may have forms to fill out or they may need a letter from you. Provide them whatever they need, in the manner they stipulate. Don’t fight them even if it seems silly or is a pain in the rear end. Demand a physical letter from them explaining the charges are removed from your account. If they don’t send you one, you send them a letter demanding it and threatening to report them to the Federal Trade Commission and/or sue them for defamation of credit.
Step 3 – Get a copy of your credit report
See what fraudulent information made it onto your credit report. You should request a free credit report from each of the big 3 agencies as you are a victim of fraud. They have to give you that, and they cannot charge you. We are going to also suggest you get another one in 3 months, but more on that later. Analyze your credit report very carefully and make a note of all fraudulent accounts, credit inquiries, charges, changes of address, or any other erroneous information.
Step 4 – Consider a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze essentially extends the 90-day fraud alert for up to 7 years. Consider doing this if you are worried about a particularly aggressive thief, or if you have a strong need to protect your credit. You can do this for free if you are a victim of identity theft. You can also pay to do this even if you are not. A credit freeze will make it harder for you to get credit. Any company extending credit will take extra precautions about verifying your identity. It can be a pain, but it is the safest way to protect your credit. If you are interested, read more about How to Freeze Your Credit.
Step 5 – Correct your credit report
Write a letter (this is not doable by phone) to the big 3 credit reporting agencies with copies of your FTC report and/or police report. You must also provide them proof of your identity, like a copy of your driver’s’ license or social security number. Send this by FedEx to guarantee delivery by hand, since there is going to be sensitive information in this package. Explain exactly which information on your credit report is bogus, and ask that it be removed and treated as fraudulent. Itemize the information line by line. Make this idiot proof when you write it up. Here is the information for the fraud departments of the big 3 credit bureaus.
Here is the information for the fraud departments of the big 3 credit bureaus:
TransUnion.com | 1-800-680-7289
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19022-2000
Equifax.com | 1-800-525-6285
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
Experian.com | 1-888-397-3742
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Ask for a letter confirming they have taken these steps. But even with a letter, you will have to pull your credit report again to be truly certain.
Step 6 – Monitor Your Credit
Get another credit report 3 months from now. You get one free credit report each year at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. That is the official site for a free annual credit report. There are other private companies that will provide your credit report and continuous credit monitoring for a fee.
You have to verify no new accounts popped up there, and you have to make sure the credit agency removed items you requested in the previous step.
I suggest you get another credit report 6 months later. You will have to pay for this report, but it is worth it. In fact, you should make it a regular practice to get one credit report each year to monitor your credit going forward. These fraudulent accounts can and do pop up later. You have to be vigilant about shutting them down.
Step 7 – Do I Need an Attorney?
You should not normally need an attorney to rescue your credit after identity theft. You do have to be diligent, follow up, and keep good records. But you can do that on your own.
However, hiring a lawyer may be a wise idea in some circumstances. A good example would be if you are contacted by an aggressive debt collector who will not acknowledge your claims of fraud. Another good example would be finding out a civil judgment was entered against you as the result of fraud.
Basically, if anyone simply won’t comply with your repeated requests to clear up your credit, you may need to seek the help of an attorney.
Those are the primary steps you have to take if you are the victim of identity theft. However, there are other things you can and should do if you are really on top of this. There are certain procedures you should follow if you need to replace government ID’s, report a lost social security card, remove criminal charges that may not be yours, etc.
For more, see the FTC site at www.identitytheft.gov and get all the details.
We hope identity theft never happens to you. But if it does, we hope this post makes your life easier by walking you through the steps you have to take.