ID Theft? Here’s how to bounce back
Fresh out of Vanderbilt University, 22-year-old T.K. (we’ll use his initials for reasons that will become obvious momentarily) moved back home to Richmond, VA and was ready for his first credit card. With Mom by his side for guidance, they applied for a checking account, only to find that it wasn’t the first time his Social Security number had been used to open one.
“They pulled up my credit report and found that somebody had used my Social Security number to open checking accounts in Northern Virginia, and had been writing bad checks at Kmart and other department stores,” he said. “I was frustrated. I didn’t know how they would have gotten my Social Security number.”
T.K. fell victim to what thousands, maybe even millions, of people cope with each year – identity theft. And while the 18 to 29 age group had the most identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, many still don’t know the next steps to get out of their sticky situation. T.K. couldn’t open a simple checking account until his identity was cleared. So once you find out, what next?
When you’re a victim of identity theft, the first step is to contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies -– Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion –- to place a fraud alert on your account. Doing so will ensure that no more accounts can be opened in your name, and the credit reporting agency you contact will alert the other two. You’ll receive a copy of your credit report from each agency. Review the reports and check that your personal information is accurate (Social Security number, name, address, employers, etc.), and then take the proper steps to correct any inaccuracies.
When reviewing your credit reports, you may notice accounts that have been tampered with or fraudulently opened. T.K. contacted the fraud departments in Kmart, Target and the other affected department stores to notify them about the theft, and then followed up in writing with a dispute letter. Some companies may have fraud dispute forms that you have to fill out as well.
Check out a sample dispute letter at ftc.gov.
For the best protection when you’re a victim of identity theft, obtain an Identity Theft Report by filling out the Federal Trade Commission Complaint Form and filing a police report. Doing so will get you the validation that you are indeed a victim and helps aide the police in tracking down ID thieves. The Identity Theft Report ensures that the debt created by the thief will not reappear on your credit report and extends your fraud alert for up to seven years.