Depending on your exact situation you may need simple credit repair, or you may need aggressive credit repair, or you may need legal representation. To know what you need, you first need to know what happened.
If your house is robbed or your wallet is stolen, you know immediately what happened. However, if the first you learn of the situation is a rejected loan application, a collections letter in the mail or a process server knocking on your door, then you may have no idea what caused your problem.
If you do not already have it, you will need your credit report. And get it from all three major credit bureaus. See Reading Your Credit Report for information on obtaining your report from each bureau. This is not the time to be timid about cost. You absolutely have to have all the information you can get as fast as you can get it. When you order the report from each company online or over the phone, and pay for it, you will have all three reports instantly or in a few days. If you go the “free report” route it can take weeks to obtain just the first one.
As you read your credit reports, hopefully you can figure out exactly what was compromised. Have existing credit cards been used without permission? Have new accounts been opened? Was personal information used in criminal activity? Do you have judgments against you? Are there a lot of Account Inquiries, an indication someone maybe trying to open new accounts? Are there addresses where you have not lived? Are aliases listed that you have never used, including SR. and JR? A SR or JR, make great new [fake] identities. Check every detail carefully.
The Financial Inventory Form you completed earlier that listed all your accounts will now be very handy. By comparing this form to your Credit Reports, you can see which ones are new or unauthorized and which ones may have unapproved activity. This is why you should gather this information before you have a problem. Once you have an issue, you will start stressing and you may overlook important information or seldom used accounts. By having the information already gathered, it is much easier to lay your inventory form and your credit reports side by side and do account by account comparisons.
The most important thing to ingrain into your mindset, everything must be in writing. While you can use 800/888 toll free numbers to start the process, everything must be in writing. As you call each affected company, make note of the agent’s name, title, department and telephone extension, then follow up the call with a letter. And demand a letter in response. Should a matter end up in court, the courts will not accept he said/she said statements that occurred “on the phone”. And, you could be told what you want to hear by the agent as a way to get you off the phone because they know they are not accountable for anything not in writing. Any Exchange of information not in writing, did not happen.
If you have compromised credit accounts, contact every effected account immediately at the toll free numbers you recorded on your form. This should stop additional activity on the account to limit additional damages. You may need to close the effected account(s) or get new account numbers and passwords. When you are done contacting every affected account, go back and contact all the non-affected accounts. If possible also change these account numbers and passwords. Just because they have no illicit activity, does not mean that they will not at some point in the future. If a thief has five of your credit cards, but has only used two of them, it may be because they are trying to max out each before moving on to the one in your wallet.
If your fraud is unauthorized New accounts you will need to contact each of these companies’ fraud departments. If the amounts are small, you may be able to resolve it directly with each company involved. If the amounts involved are multiple $1,000s or $10,000s, then your first stop is the Yellowpages under attorneys. In severe cases, it has been necessary for people to file bankruptcy to hold off creditors that are attempting to seize houses, property or garnish wages to pay for the fraudulent credit.
If your Social Security number was stolen, you will have a much harder time dealing with this issue. You will have to place flags on your number with each and every credit reporting bureau. And remember the warning about not expecting the bureaus to be helpful. You would think the employees are people too and would care about another human. It does not appear that way, so it is assumed the bureaus only hire cyborgs. It is nearly impossible to obtain a new Social Security Number and you will have to show cause proving the need. Persons who have a past bankruptcy and then suffered Identity Theft will find it will likely take an act of Congress to get them a new number.
Each state’s licensing agency has their own policies if your drivers license is stolen. Some will replace your card and some may issue a new license number. Federal laws enacted in the last few years has greatly increased the requirements to obtain a drivers license. However, there are still state by state differences for obtaining new or replacement licenses. Many states now require an original birth certificate. If you do not have one, get it now, and put it in your safe or bank safe deposit box.
Also consult with your insurance agent(s) to see if unauthorized activity has happened with your policies. Have cars been added? Have claims been filed? Have inquiries been reported such as after an accident? Ask your agent about changing account numbers or taking other steps the company may permit to protect yourself if there is unsupported activity.
One major advance in Identity Theft recovery is credited to the National Notary Association (http://www.nationalnotary.org). The NNA, working with state agencies, has created the “Identity Theft Verification Passport Program”.
The system allows the police to electronically record identifying information from a person claiming to be an Identity Theft victim. Using Enjoa (the NNA’s Electronic Notarization System), the authorities take a person’s signature, prints and photo to help ensure the person is not making false claims. The Passport Program expedites the process for an ID theft victim to repair damaged credit and reputation. The program is only available in limited areas and is still being developed. Check the NNA’s website for news. Favorable responses have been reported everywhere it has been tested. Maybe Congress will listen to consumers and support the program at a national level.