With the availability of technology to help thieves along, identity theft is often a quiet occurrence. Many victims don’t even know they’ve been affected until a credit card provider or a collections department contacts them, requesting payment on an account they didn’t open. Once that call comes, however, many victims are rightfully afraid for their financial reputations.
Luckily, identity theft is such a known problem and an identifiable situation that most credit issuers are at least aware of the potential for problems. You’ll still have some legwork ahead of you to clear your name, but it’s nowhere near as huge an obstacle as it once was. There are even laws and regulations that affect how the credit issuer can interact with you, and there are agencies like this one in place to help you navigate the process.
Believe it or not, sometimes victims of identity theft make a payment on a debt, even knowing that it’s not their activity. In their minds, they hope to make the situation go away if they just make a minimum payment. Of course, collections departments are used to working with people who don’t pay their bills, and they push to get you to accept the blame for the charges. Do not pay anything on fraudulent charges, and do not make any statement that makes it sound as though you might be responsible for them.
The most important thing you can do once you are contacted by a creditor or collections department is to keep really detailed records—written records, if possible—of all communications between you and the other party. You’ll want complete information, such as the name and address of the creditor, and the full names, job titles, and phone extensions if possible of the people you speak with. If these communications continue after the initial contact as emails, make sure you save copies of them. Any mailed communication should be kept in a file for the duration of the process, and even after the situation is resolved.
Next, you’ll need to file a police report and send copies of that report to the creditors so that they know you are serious about resolving the issue. Remember, they’re used to dealing with people who just can’t or won’t pay, but there are different steps that must be taken for people who are victims of unauthorized accounts of charges.
Ideally, the creditor will have a fraud or identity theft department and will be able to refer you to a knowledgeable representative who specializes in cases like yours. That person should give you plenty of detailed information on what steps they need from you in order to clear your name and catch the person responsible. Be sure to request copies of the actual application that was sent in under your name to initiate the accounts in the first place.
Perhaps the hardest part of the process will be keeping your cool. Remember, the person on the phone who is trying to resolve the issue isn’t the one who stole your identity, but it can feel like they’re just as unhelpful as the person who did! The representatives have a job to do and have steps they need you to take before they can process your claim, so try to be calm and helpful.
Don’t forget to request copies of your credit report from the three reporting agencies. You may find out that this is the tip of the fraudulent charge iceberg, and you need to reach out to any other creditors who have fraudulent charges pending in your name. Ask all three agencies to place a fraud alert on your file so that verification must be given in order for any new accounts to be opened.
As the process is being resolved, remember not to simply take someone’s word for it. Get it in writing and have it mailed to you that the creditor acknowledges you are not the person responsible for the charges and the debt. Also ask for written acknowledgement that your Social Security number is no longer associated with that account, or any other accounts with that company if you do not currently do business with them.
You’ll want to follow up in a few months’ time with a fresh credit report to ensure that no new activity has taken place in your name. Save all of your written information somewhere safe, and be sure to hang onto it for at least ten years.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.