Solving Small Credit Problems
Filling in the Gaps: What Credit Monitoring Can’t Do
Whether you do it yourself or have a credit protection company do it for you, monitoring your credit report is a serious matter. However, even the best credit monitoring can’t prevent most identity theft scenarios; the fact is, most identity thefts aren’t elaborate electronic schemes, but the results of a lost or stolen wallet, or a stray piece of mail. In other words, most identity theft takes before you can do anything about it.
What Happens Under the Credit Radar?
Fraudulent payday loans, stolen credit cards, utility accounts issued in your name—these are just a few examples of the small-scale identity theft that simple credit monitoring can uncover, but cannot prevent. These incidents show up on your credit report later; in fact, you may only learn of them once they do show up on your credit report. However you do find out, the next step is to deal with the problem quickly and correctly, to minimize the damage.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides a wealth of resources for fighting back against identity theft, and suggests taking the following four steps as quickly as possible:
1. If you haven’t done so already, place fraud alerts on your credit reports with all three credit agencies.
2. Close the accounts that you know (or suspect) have been used by identity thieves.
3. File a report with the FTC.
4. File a report with the local police.
By taking the latter two steps, you can create an Identity Theft Report, which allows the credit reporting companies to verify that you are a victim, and which accounts were damaged by the identity theft.
Placing Fraud Alerts
Protecting your identity from further abuse should be your first priority; placing fraud alerts will prevent additional illicit accounts from being opened. You must contact at least one of the three credit monitoring companies, as the one you call will notify the other two.
• TransUnion: (800) 680-7289; www.transunion.com
• Equifax: (800) 525-6285; www.equifax.com
• Experian: (888) 397-3742; www.experian.com
Once the alert is in place, get a copy of your credit report from each of these companies (you are entitled to one free report per year from each one) and review it for any other suspicious activity.
Closing Compromised Accounts
When you call companies to close fraudulent accounts, ask for the fraud department, and make sure that you understand what documentation they might need. Banks and credit card companies often need written permission to act on accounts; be sure to follow through on all the information they ask for, and do so quickly. If there are disputed charges on the account, ask for the paperwork necessary to have the charges removed, and if a whole new account was opened using your information, have the institution close it immediately.
When the situation is resolved, make sure you ask the company for a letter stating that the accounts in question are closed, and that any fraudulent debts have been removed from your responsibility. This letter will be invaluable if you have to file a dispute with the credit agencies to have bad charges removed.
Tell the FTC and the Police
The FTC has both a toll-free identity theft hotline (877-438-4338) and an online form (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov) for submitting identity theft complaints. Telling the FTC allows the government to compile identity theft data and pass on valuable information to national law enforcement. An FTC complaint also lends weight to your case; in conjunction with a police report, your FTC ID Theft Complaint can provide you with the additional protections that come with a completed Identity Theft Report (i.e., blocking fraudulent information from your credit report, preventing companies from trying to collect on fraudulent debt, placing long-term fraud alerts on your credit file).
When filing your police report, ask if you can file it in person; by meeting the filing officer face-to-face, you can be sure to give them any supporting documentation, as well as your paperwork from the FTC. Otherwise, file your report over the phone or online. If the police in your jurisdiction will not take the report, contact your state Attorney General to find out which law enforcement entity in your area to go to.
If you can file in person, insist that the officer taking the report add your ID Theft Complaint from the FTC into their report, as these two documents together provide your best tools in disputing any charges incurred by the identity thieves. If you can, get a copy of the police report to submit to the companies in question; if you cannot, be sure to write down the police report number so you can at least provide proof that a report has been filed.