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You’ve been spending hours writing credit card companies, calling merchants and spending time on hold with credit bureaus waiting to report the crime and request your credit report. Each time you answer the telephone or go to the mailbox, you wonder what new bill will appear. The idea of dealing with yet another collection agency or a newly discovered credit card leaves you filled with dread, rage, and helplessness.
Identity theft is a complex problem. It is NORMAL for this crime to have an emotional impact on you and your family. In fact, it would be unusual if it did not. At one point or another, victims of identity theft may feel overwhelmed by the psychological pain of loss, helplessness, anger, isolation, betrayal, rage, and even embarrassment. This crime triggers deep fears regarding financial security, the safety of family members, and the ability to ever trust again.
Dealing with the mess left by an imposter is only part of your job. This crime, like other long-term crimes that involve repeated emotional abuse, can affect not only your emotional stability, but that of your family. So, while you take care of the paperwork, don’t forget to leave a little time to work on healing your and your family’s emotional wounds.
Be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions. As effects of this crime sink in you may well find yourself cycling between denial (This is not happening.) and rage (How dare they!), endless questioning (How did this happen? Why me?), and hopelessness and vulnerability (Nothing can protect me.). Few people are emotionally prepared for the impact of identity theft. There is a loss of innocence and trust associated with this crime. You may also have to deal with the fact that someone you know personally may be involved in the theft. That’s a lot to absorb.
Finally, you may feel stonewalled by the very people you turn to for help. Identity theft is a difficult crime to solve, and the wheels of justice are still very squeaky. Be patient with yourself and with those who want to help.
While it might take some time to straighten out the paper trail, it is important for you to regain your emotional balance as quickly as possible. The feelings you have are valid. You have been harmed. Recognizing and accepting your fears, apprehensions and frustrations is the first step.
They might even sneak up on you, unexpected, sometimes long after the original crime, triggered by a situation most people would just shrug off. Such emotional floods are a part of the healing process.
Identity theft plays havoc on someone who is financially responsible for others or who is their family’s sole source of financial support. This crime may threaten your credit rating, your ability to get a loan, tenancy or employment. It may even temporarily complicate a number of other issues in your life. However, please know you have not let your family down. You did not cause this to happen. You are an innocent victim.
We find that being honest with other members of the family removes some of the weight from your shoulders. You need to hear them say they don’t blame you. You have enough to deal with in the paperwork alone. Let your loved ones and friends be there for encouragement and support.
Whether you know the imposter or not, you may give a lot of thought to the person behind the act.
If you know the imposter: You may feel more pronounced feelings of betrayal, especially if the person was a friend or family member. It may be very difficult to turn this person in to the authorities. The decisions you now make have many ramifications, for you and for those who know both you and the imposter. You might want to seek counseling, either to help you make your decision or live with its consequences. Please refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 115 – When you Personally Know the Identity Thief.
If the imposter is unknown: Victims often report a feeling of insecurity, wondering if the person standing next to them in the market or walking past them on the street may be the imposter. They may distrust everyone, feeling tremendously vulnerable. In order to function, it’s important to focus on the crime and not the criminal.
To everyone: Although you may wish the criminal be brought to justice, the reality is that this may not occur. The primary goal is making sure that your identity is cleared.
Becoming active in a program that assists others is a step toward recovering from the emotional impact from this crime. Some crime victims find that by assisting others, and moving from their personal experience into a broader world, they begin the healing process. This might include: increasing public awareness, increasing corporate awareness, helping to increase understanding of this crime with law enforcement, or getting involved in community volunteer policing programs.
Without intervention, some victims can become so chronically dysfunctional that they are unable to cope any longer. They may be severely depressed – some symptoms are exhaustion, overeating, anxiety, drinking, forgetfulness, or an unwillingness to leave home or their bed.
Don’t wait until you feel lost at the bottom of a pit. Even if you don’t feel overwhelmed, talking to a trained professional who specializes in crime victims can be very beneficial. This could be a religious leader (i.e., minister, rabbi), a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Getting help should never be considered a sign of weakness. You are going through a very stressful time and need to talk about your feelings.
The following is a partial resource list for those who may not be financially able to afford a private therapist themselves or who may need the name of a good therapy program. We also recommend you look in the front of your local phonebook under Crisis Intervention, Counseling and Mental Health.
Many victims compare identity theft to rape, others to a cancer invading their lives. Many of the symptoms and reactions to identity theft victimization parallel those of violent crime. The following information is provided for your enlightenment and, perhaps, to reassure victims that what they are experiencing is not abnormal. The reaction to identity theft can run the full spectrum from mild to severe. Clearly, the complexity of the crime itself will also define the severity of the impact, as will any other traumatic events that may occur around that same time frame.
* Dr. Charles E. Nelson, Ph.D is a psychologist and the director of the Crime and Trauma Recovery Program in San Diego, CA. This program has worked with crime victims and those who love them since 1976. Victims who wish to contact him directly may reach him at (858) 546-9255.
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Most identity theft cases do not result in the perpetrator being arrested and convicted. In many ways, these cases are in uncharted territory. Oftentimes, there is no one to turn to, no one to ask about procedures or to help guide you through the legal maze. It is important to communicate with the district attorney assigned to your case.
Along with the district attorney, you need to put a face to this crime, to show it in living color. It is your responsibility to educate the judge about your needs and how this crime affected your life, from the time of discovery to that day in court.
Most of these requests (listed below) will be made during the Sentencing Phase of your case. Please note: a judge may or may not listen. The judge has the final word. However, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if the judge agrees with you.
You might also refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 - Organizing Your Identity Theft Case.
Many District Attorney Offices have a victim assistance program. Ask to speak to a victim assistance counselor to help you prepare yourself for the various stages of the prosecution, hearings, requests for restitution, probation interviews, hearings, etc. Each court and jurisdiction is different and often the district attorney doesn’t have time to help you. You can also read through the basic process in ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience.
Make sure that you get all the pamphlets and procedures in writing so that you understand what is expected of you as a victim and witness. Keep a very detailed file of the information since this process may go on for many months.
Restitution is paid to the victim(s) when the court orders the defendant to pay a certain amount of money to his or her victims to reimburse them for their losses. While some judges are reluctant to order restitution, they are required to listen to your request and will usually consider reasonable and unavoidable costs.
We suggest that you write a letter asking for restitution. You may use ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements.
In all cases, you must keep receipts of legitimate costs. You should also keep a detailed log of all time spent on clearing your name (time spent, what you were working on, who you called, etc.). You should also try to estimate projected future costs, anticipating reasonable expenses you will incur in clearing your case.
We also recommend that you look at our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience and ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements to see examples of how to add requests to your statement. Do not present a long laundry list to the judge. Be selective in what you request and be brief in your presentation. Remember, be respectful of the judge’s time and be courteous.
The judge has the discretion to determine which, if any, items will be considered for restitution. However here are some suggested items for inclusion:
For a period of time after the initial victimization, you are entitled to get your credit reports without cost to clean up the credit mess and monitor the new inquiries. That varies depending on state laws and credit reporting agency policies. After that time, be sure to continue to keep an eye on your reports, checking them once every few months.
Identity theft criminals tend to be repeat offenders. Victims often say that while their perpetrators got off with 3 years of probation, they are servicing a life sentence. It is true that victims live with the fact that the imposter may reuse the information at any time. They might also sell it repeatedly for others to use.
So, the question arises, how do you monitor your credit reports as effectively as possible? Some people prefer to subscribe to a Credit Monitoring Service. There are several currently in the United States. We recommend the ANNUAL CREDIT REPORT PROGRAM - a free program provided by federal law. If you call 877-322-8228, you can order one credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months. By staggering your requests you can keep an eye on your credit for FREE.
In many states, victims may freeze their credit reports to prevent unwanted credit issuers from viewing them. For more information on this process, please see our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 124 - Credit Freeze and Fraud Alerts. Also, please check our State Resources to see if your state has laws regarding fraud and credit freezes.
These new services go beyond traditional credit monitoring by including additional areas where fraudulent activity may be indicated. In some cases, these may be more proactive in alerting you to fraudulent activity in real time. Each service is slightly different. Additional areas may include:
Some companies calculate identity risk by looking for any suspicious or unusual relationships among billions of basic identity elements. Others include credit monitoring and some of the additional items mentioned above. Look for a service that notifies you quickly of any developing problem.
If the imposter has used your name as an alias while committing a crime or if you have difficulties proving you are you -- one of the tools you can request from the courts is a “Letter of Clearance”. It is known by various names so ask the district attorney or sheriff in your area for the precise title. Essentially, this is an official document from the court establishing your that you were a victim of identity theft.
You will need to carry this form with you for years to come so make numerous copies of it. We also suggest you give a copy of it to a family member or close friend in the event you misplace the copy you carry on your person and you need it in an emergency. This document will save you countless embarrassing moments and potential visits to the local jail.
If you are a victim of this type of “criminal identity theft,” please read ITRC Fact Sheet FS 110.
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Over the years, the ITRC has developed strong, working relationships with law enforcement, governmental agencies and businesses. In doing so, we have drawn upon some well-documented laws of effective communication. They aren’t difficult, and anyone can use them effectively.
Organize your thoughts prior to any conversation. Identity theft cases can be complicated. ITRC Fact Sheet FS 112 - Enhancing Identity Theft Victim and Investigator Communications will help you to be succinct and focused. Write down what points you want to cover and what you want to accomplish.
Anger never works; people stop listening. You want to engage this person and convert him or her into an ally. If you are angry, delay your call until you can redirect your anger into positive, calm and effective communication. Be someone who acknowledges any attempt to help you. A “thank you” goes a long ways toward winning allies.
You - “I have a problem. You are trying to collect money on an account I never opened. How do I remove my name from an account opened fraudulently in my name?”
Them - “We just want to know how soon you plan to pay up.”
You - “I understand that you normally deal with people who haven’t paid their bills. My case is different. This is a case of identity theft. I didn’t open this account. How do I remove my name from this account?”
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While a lost or stolen wallet or PDA may simply mean the loss of your cash and credit cards, it may also be the beginning of an identity theft case. Hope for the best while taking steps to reduce your risk of identity theft. The return of the item does not guarantee that cards were not copied, so you need to proceed as if the items were stolen.
This guide will serve as a starting point of what to do and whom to call. If the situation evolves into identity theft, please refer to our other self-help guides or contact our office toll-free at 888-400-5530.
What was in your wallet and/or purse?
The following is a list of items that may be in your wallet or purse that can lead to identity theft or other forms of fraud if stolen.
What other information was on your cell phone, tablet, or laptop?
Steps to take immediately:
1. Police report: Report the crime/loss to your local law enforcement agency. Give them a list of the items it contained (see above). Request a copy of the report as you might need it later. ITRC also recommends getting the business card or name of the officer who took the report, the report number and a phone number to call if you have additional questions.
2. Credit or Fraud Alerts: Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) by telephone, listed below. Use the “Report Fraud” numbers for each CRA (refer to ITRC Solution 3). You will reach an automated system that allows you to provide your phone number. We highly recommend you include a home or cell phone number. See ITRC Fact Sheet 100 – Financial Identity Theft – the Beginning Steps and ITRC Fact Sheet 124 for information on placing fraud alerts.
- Equifax (800) 525-6285
- Experian (888) 397-3742
- Trans Union: (800) 680-7289
Ask for a fraud alert and your free report as a potential victim of identity theft. The CRAs are required to provide you with a complimentary credit report when you place a fraud alert. This report gives you the opportunity to check for any pending credit applications and to verify that all the current information is correct. It becomes an accurate baseline for the fraud alert and may alert you to suspicious activity.
In 2 to 3 months you should begin to use the federal annual credit report system, www.annualcreditreport.com (for more information, see ITRC Fact Sheet 125.) If there are problems, please refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet 100 for guidance. If your SSN is being used, you may want to consider a “credit freeze” explained in ITRC Fact Sheet 124.
3. Driver’s License or State ID: If your Driver’s license or vehicle registration was taken, contact the state agency that issues driver’s licenses. Place a stolen/lost card warning on your file. At this time, request a replacement. If you discover that a thief is using your license, you can request a license number change. If your vehicle registration papers are missing, notify your state agency of this as well.
4. Credit Cards and Account Documents: If you are missing credit cards or copies of bills, contact the card issuers that issued the stolen/lost card(s). Request replacement cards with new account numbers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit grantors to furnish copies of any fraudulent transactions for that account. Monitor your mail for collection notices, missing statements or bills. Check bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity and report any problems immediately to credit grantors. If a problem is discovered, please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100.
5. Checks and Checking Account Information If you have lost checking account numbers, savings account numbers, checks, ATM cards, or debit cards, contact the bank immediately and close the account. Open a new account with a new number. Add a password on the account. It sometimes helps to go directly to the local branch and speak face-to-face with a bank manager or fraud investigator. Do not waste time explaining your case to a teller. Please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 126 for additional information on checking account takeover and check fraud.
To report fraudulent use of your checks:
Several of these companies do provide a “consumer report.” Order reports from those that do provide them. They should be free.
Security Alert: ChexSystems and SCAN will let you place a 90-day Security Alert on your consumer report with them.
6. Military ID cards: Notify the personnel support detachment (PSD) and your immediate chain of command up to the commanding officer. Apply for a new ID card. In the event that a dependent’s ID card is involved, notify your immediate supervisor, the PSD, and secure a replacement.
7. Green Card or immigration papers: Contact the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as your country’s embassy.
8. Passports: In the case of a lost or stolen passport, it is important to notify the U.S. Department of State immediately and fill out Form DS-64. In the event the passport was issued by another country, notify the issuing country’s embassy. For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/lost-stolen.html
9. Workplace theft: If your wallet or PDA was lost or stolen at work, notify both the HR and Security Departments. You might recommend a notice be posted warning other personnel to take additional security precautions. For example, women should not be storing wallets or purses in unlocked, desk drawers.
10. Stolen Social Security Card
Do this every year at the end of January for everybody whose card was stolen:
If you are requesting the information on a minor child or a dependent adult please read Solution 27 http://www.idtheftcenter.org/Solutions/sn-27.html
Refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100A for further information on more complex cases.
11: Stolen Smart Phone:
Call your service provider and have them cancel your service and report your phone missing. Treat the loss of your smartphone as you would the loss of a wallet or purse.
12: Birth Certificate
Notify the issuing county recorder’s office of the loss. In the future, do not carry this on your person unless needed that day.
13: Health insurance: Notify the medical insurance carrier immediately. Request a replacement policy number.
14: Auto insurance/AAA: Notify the insurance company immediately. You don’t want someone using your information in the event of an accident. Request a replacement policy number.
Tips for Dealing with the Authorities and Financial Institutions: