Dealing with identity theft
I’ve had several inquiries from clients and prospective clients that were victims of identity theft and unauthorized use of their credit cards. These people had unsuccessfully tried to explain the fraudulent activity to skeptical debt collectors, who continued to harass them day and night. In one case, the debt collector had already obtained a default judgment and was attempting to garnish the person’s wages. Here are some steps you should take to protect yourself if your identity has been stolen or if your credit cards have been used without your authorization:
- Close any credit card accounts that have been used, or that you suspect may be used, without your permission. Call your credit card company and report the fraudulent activity immediately. Follow up the conversation with a certified letter so you can prove that they received it. Some companies may have forms they want you to fill out. Do so and keep copies for your records. Request that the credit card company confirm in writing that your accounts have been closed. You should also request that the credit card company waive any fraudulent charges. Again, be sure to confirm this in writing and keep a copy for your records.
- Report the fraudulent activity to the credit bureaus. The three main credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The first company you report the fraud to is required to report to the other two companies, but it probably doesn’t hurt to notify all three yourself. Again, send letters by certified mail and keep copies of the letters and mail receipts. The credit bureaus must place a fraud alert on your credit report, which may make it more difficult for identity thiefs to open additional accounts. After reporting the fraud to the credit bureaus, obtain a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com and confirm that a fraud alert has been placed on your accounts.
- File a police report. When you report the fraudulent activity to the police, make sure they make a written report and get a copy of it for your records. This is critical because its usually the first thing debt collectors ask for when you tell them about the fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, debt collectors are trained to believe that you owe the money unless you prove otherwise. Showing them a police report is a good way to convince debt collectors that you’ve been a victim of fraud.
These steps should limit your liability for fraudulent charges, stop additional fraudulent charges, and give you the ammunition to raise a successful defense if the account ends up in collections. Be sure to keep all of your records because it can be years before an account gets placed with a debt collector. Also, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so take some time to review this FTC report on how to prevent identity theft.