Chapter 12 – What if you are a victim

First, life is not over, but life as you know it is over. You can survive financially, emotionally, mentally and physically. And you will survive, but you will be affected, you will be changed. Even after your situation is corrected, it will still haunt you.

After the first time your car is broken into, you will take extra care to lock the doors, put packages in the trunk, park in a lighted area, and install a car alarm. Recovering from Identity Theft will leave a similar bad taint on your daily activities. Every time you apply for a loan or a credit card, you will wonder if you will be declined, or have to pay a higher interest rate, or be charged extra fees. You might even refuse to apply for useful credit out of fear you will be rejected. Every time you open your mail, you will wonder if it will again contain bad news. And unlike measles which you get once, Identity Theft could repeat itself numerous times.

There are many issues involved with repairing Identity Theft. It would be impossible in this short book to properly and accurately cover the entire process. It would be impossible in an entire library of books to cover every possible situation.

One key reason this book will not attempt to be a cure-all for all Identity Theft is not only is each case unique, but the laws governing credit activities vary by state. While federal laws are consistent everywhere, some states have very aggressive consumer protection clauses. Generally Federal trumps State and local laws, but if the state or local laws offer the consumer more time to dispute billing errors or fraud, then the state or local laws will often have authority. Other legal differences can also exist.

There are several specific steps you must take if your are a victim of Identity Theft. The effectiveness of each will depend on several factors including the amount of financial harm you or businesses may suffer because of the theft, the type of fraud committed, your state and local laws, and your local law enforcement agencies. Regardless, it is important that you do these steps at a minimum.

A) Contact each of the major Credit Reporting Bureaus and put flags on your accounts.
B) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. (http//:www.ftc.gov)
C) File a Police Report with your local authorities.
D) Contact your Attorney General’s Consumer Affairs Office.
E) If checking or bank fraud is involved, contact the Merchant Check Approving agencies.
F) Organize your files and start aggressively monitoring your Credit Report, Credit Score and Bank Accounts.

Process in detail
A) You must call each Credit Bureau and flag your account.
If you are an Identity Theft victim, the Credit Bureaus must allow you to flag your account. Flags will nearly always stop additional new accounts, but may have little effect on existing ones. There are two types of flags. (1) A 90 day flag for ID Theft Victims. (2) A permanent flag which some states permit (for everyone). And flags only affect Credit accounts, not tax, insurance or criminal fraud.

See Page 57 for the Bureaus’ telephone numbers. When you call keep a log of the agent’s name, the date/time and all other information exchanged. If you have any concerns, or just for the fun of it, in a couple of days call back to check on your account flag. This may annoy the agents, but it is Your Identity you are protecting, not their egos.

As a victim of Identity Theft, do not expect the credit bureaus to be friendly, sympathetic or remorseful. They are not friends or allies. They make their money selling your information. When you flag your account, they can no longer sell it. You are now lost income and revenue for them.

Credit bureaus and banks fight every consumer protection law that allows you to control your credit file’s access. Some states allow all consumers to flag their accounts. However, thanks to banks, credit bureaus and loan companies, Federal Laws only protects victims for 90 days. The Businesses desire that unless, and until, you are a proven victim, your file should be fully accessible, and sellable, leaving you open to attack. You should have the right to block your account’s access at any time for any reason. It is your information, not a property of banks, loan companies and Credit Bureaus.

B) File a report with Federal Trade Commission.
This can be done on the internet or by printing and mailing the forms. Either way, keep a copy for your records. This may not assist in recovery, but the FTC uses the reports to build patterns and analysis’s of Identity Theft to assist businesses in preventing fraud and to report to Congress to assist in drafting new laws. In some cases the FTC may directly assist law enforcement agencies with investigations. The more reports filed, the better the FTC will be able to assist law enforcement and Congress.

C) File a police report with your local police agency.
Some departments are better than others at dealing with Identity Theft. Some agencies have assigned detectives that will look into the case. Some agencies could care less. They will take your report and “file it”. It is still important you make the report and get a copy with a case number.

A police report – with case number – will be needed when you make your fraud claims with the Credit Card companies, banks and loan companies. Generally, businesses are not just going to take your word for it as everyone would call and claim they are Identity Theft victims to get out of legal debts.

In your police report, you need to include as much information as you have at the time you make the report. If additional information is uncovered later, go back to the police and modify the information. Again, the more the police know, the better they can investigate.

D) File a report with your Attorney General’s Office
Most Attorney General’s have a Consumer Affairs department which handles Identity Theft cases. Some may have dedicated staff for Identity Theft crimes. The AG will not represent you in your case, but as a key Law Enforcement component, they can take action against perpetrators in their jurisdiction. Again, the more reports of a specific crime or the persons committing the crime, the more likely the AG’s office can be effective.

E) Notify Check Approval Services
If you have had checks stolen or checking accounts otherwise compromised, you should close the account AND contact check approval services. The major one are: National Check Fraud Service: 843-571-2143; CrossCheck: 800-843-0760; Certegy: 800-437-5120; International Check: 800-526-5380; SCAN: 800-262-7771; Telecheck 800-710-9898 and ChexSystems: 800-428-9623

Even if your bank closes the account, in some cases you could still be liable for bad check damages. By notifying the approval companies, it may stop merchants from accepting bad checks and preventing them from suffering losses. The more stores lose in fraud, the higher their prices to paying customers to cover for the losses. Stopping bad checks saves everyone money. Make the calls – and add the information to your tracking log.

F) Organize your files and go on the offense.
Now is the time to strongly consider a credit monitoring service from a Credit Bureaus. Normally, these services are a bit pricey for many consumers to have all the time. But as an Identity Theft victim, you need to monitor your situation carefully and constantly, at least for a few months to a couple of years.