What to do when your identity is stolen

This was originally published on Monday,July 21, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: I recently looked at my credit report and noticed several credit cards with outstanding balances that had been opened in my name without my knowledge. How do I go about correcting my report?

Answer: It is unsettling to know that your identity has been stolen. According to the TransUnion website, “there’s a new identity fraud victim every two seconds.” The steps you need to take to recover from identity theft can take some time depending on how long and the type of fraud. The sooner action is taken, the better.

Place an internal fraud alert with one of the three credit reporting agencies. By law once an alert is filed, the reporting agencies are mandated to report it to the other two agencies. An internal fraud alert puts a freeze on your credit report for 90 days and automatically entitles you to a free copy of your report from each of the reporting agencies. The alert is free and can be extended past the 90 days. To call: Equifax 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-888-397-3742, and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.

Create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov and complete a report of the theft. This will be your identity theft affidavit. Next, take the affidavit to a local police station and report that your identity has been stolen. The two forms, the identity theft affidavit and the police report, make up your identity theft report.

Contact the businesses that have the fraudulent accounts or transactions. Send a letter to their fraud department along with the identity theft report. The letter should be sent by certified letter to ensure the company received the letter. Keep a copy of the letters for your records. Each company or financial institution will handle the repairs differently depending on their policies. Take time to change your passwords and PINs.

Consider placing a seven-year credit freeze on your report. Depending on the extent of the fraud, you may want to file for an extended fraud alert. This differs from the internal fraud alert. The seven-year alert stops all access to your credit report. It also requires creditors to contact you personally before a new account is opened in your name. Depending on local laws, there may be a fee associated with placing or removing an extended alert. To place an extended fraud alert, contact each of the three credit report companies. A copy of your identity theft report will have to be submitted.

Start working on repairing your credit. Dispute the fraud by writing letters to each of the three credit reporting companies. In the letters, explain that your identity was stolen, what errors are in your report, and that you are requesting to have them removed. You should also include any documents that justify the errors and include a copy of the identity theft report. Each credit reporting company has to investigate the errors and send that information to the businesses that reported the information in question. If the business chooses to remove or to keep the errors in question, the reporting agencies are required to send you the outcome.

Lastly, if errors on your credit report are the result of identity theft, request the reporting companies block the fraudulent charges. The information has to be blocked within four days and the businesses will be notified of the block. The businesses must stop reporting your charges to the credit reporting agencies and not sell or transfer a debt for collection.

The credit reporting company may deny that your errors are from identity theft. If that is the case, work with the reporting company on what other information is needed to reverse the decision. This must be done within 15 days. The reporting company must tell you why they won’t block the information. Once the reason is given, you may then resubmit the claims.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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