CULTURE SCAN: Tips for Victims of Identity Theft

As we reported two weeks ago, lately there has been an epidemic of identity theft in this region. Here is a list of actions to take to limit your losses. While you look them over, have a listen to musician Steve Forbert’s comic look at the absurd and time-consuming experience of having your identity stolen.  If it has happened to you, this will be a light moment in a bad experience. While you are listening for the second time, please go over this list of "to-do" suggestions to staunch your losses and safeguard your credit.

This delightful song “Stolen Identity” can be found on Forbert’s new release,“The Place And The Time.” The tips are just beneath the album photo.

Posted by Patric Hedlund, Editor

This is from the Calfiornia Office of the Attorney General (yes, Jerry Brown—but don’t let that stop you—hopefully these tips will be of help as you take action to limit the risks raised by this event).

Tips for Victims

This information is provided to assist individuals who are victims or suspect they may be victims of identity theft. It is intended as a general guide, not as legal advice.
SOME THINGS TO DO IMMEDIATELY

Victims of identity theft must act quickly to minimize the damage. It is very important to keep good notes of all conversations and records of all correspondence with your financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, including a log of the names, dates and phone number of persons you contacted. You also should confirm the information in writing. Sending your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, will provide you with a record of your correspondence.
REPORT ID THEFT TO MAJOR CREDIT BUREAUS.

Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file.

Trans Union P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19016-1000 Phone: (800) 680-7289

Experian (formerly TRW) P.O. Box 9532 Allen, TX 75013 Phone: 888-EXPERIAN ((888)397-3742)

Equifax P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, GA 30348 Phone: (800) 525-6285

FILE A POLICE REPORT WITH LOCAL POLICE OR POLICE WHERE IDENTITY THEFT OCCURRED.

Get a copy of the police report and retain for your records. Credit card companies and financial institutions may require you to show a copy of this report to verify the crime. Keep the phone number of your investigator and provide it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.

CONTACT ALL CREDITORS.

For any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the billing inquiries and security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Close these accounts. Use passwords – not your mother’s maiden name – on any new accounts opened. Confirm your contact in writing. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer’s request." Having a "card lost or stolen" reference because when this statement is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss. Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills and report immediately any new fraudulent activity to credit grantors.

OBTAIN FREE COPY OF YOUR CREDIT REPORT, MONITOR REGULARLY.

As a victim of identity theft, you may obtain a free copy of your credit report and should monitor activity every few months. Ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask the credit bureaus to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. Other consumers seeking a copy of their credit report may be charged a fee.

* Equifax Phone: (800) 685-1111
* Experian (formerly TRW) Phone: 888-EXPERIAN ((888) 397-3742)
* Trans Union Phone: (800) 888-4213

Under state law (California Civil Code 1785.16(k)), a consumer submitting a valid police report can have the credit reporting agency block the reporting of any information that the consumer alleges appears on the credit report as a result of identity theft. You also may want to ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information.

CONTEST BILLS THAT RESULT FROM IDENTITY THEFT.

Consumer and privacy advocates suggest not paying any portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft and not filing for bankruptcy. This will involve disputing credit card charges with the card company by writing to the address for "billing error" disputes – not the bill payment address. You should follow the directions given by the credit card company for disputing charges. This information must be provided by the company. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you as a result of identity theft. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don’t allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills. Report such attempts to government regulators immediately.

ACCESS INFORMATION IF ACCOUNT OPENED FRAUDULENTLY IN YOUR NAME.

If a loan, credit or utility service account has been opened fraudulently in your name, you now can obtain a copy of the application used and a record of transactions or charges associated with that account. The information you learn may be useful in determining what personally identifying information was stolen, help clear your good name and credit, and even lead to the identity of the thief.

Here is a checklist for accessing account info under California Penal Code section 530.8:

* File a Police Report that you believe you are a victim of identity theft. Keep a copy of the police report.
* Fill out the request forms provided by the law enforcement agency or use the Fraudulent Account Information Request Form
* Fill out the Identity Theft Affidavit PDF logo [PDF 50 kb / 7 pg]
* Send completed package (Info Request/ID Theft Affidavit/Police Report) to each creditor where the thief opened an account using your stolen identity.
* Provide account information you receive to the police officer investigating your ID theft case.

FALSE CIVIL AND CRIMINAL JUDGMENTS.
Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the identity thief. If a civil judgment has been entered in your name for actions taken or debts incurred by your impostor, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the state Department of Justice and the FBI and obtain information on how to clear your name. The California Department of Justice will be establishing a statewide data base beginning September 2001to provide certain information about identity theft crimes to victims and law enforcement agencies.

FOR OTHER TYPES OF IDENTITY THEFT:
NOTIFY CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES OF MISUSE OF DRIVER’S LICENSE NUMBER.

You may need to change your driver’s license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the DMV to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Also, fill out the DMV’s complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office. Web: Department of Motor Vehicles

REPORT STOLEN CHECKS AND STOP PAYMENT IMMEDIATELY.

If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the appropriate check verification companies. Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of. Cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Give the bank a secret password for your account (not mother’s maiden name). If your own checks are rejected at stores where you shop, contact the check verification company that the merchant uses. To report fraudulent use of your checks:

* Chexsystems: (800) 428-9623
* CrossCheck: (800) 843-0760
* Equifax: (800) 437-5120
* International Check Services: (800) 631-9656
* SCAN: (800) 262-7771
* TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898

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REPORT STOLEN ATM CARDS AND CHANGE PASSWORDS IMMEDIATELY.

Get a new ATM card, account number and password. When creating a password, don’t use common numbers like the last four digits of your SSN or your birth date. Monitor your account statement. You may be liable if fraud is not reported quickly.

FOR SUSPECTED FRAUDULENT CHANGE OF ADDRESS, NOTIFY LOCAL POSTAL INSPECTOR.

Call the U.S. Post Office to obtain the phone number of the local Postal Inspector. Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier. U.S. Postal Inspection Service

U.S. Post Office Phone: (800) 275-8777

REPORT MISUSE OF SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER BY CALLING SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

Order a copy of your Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy. The thief might be using your SSN for employment purposes. If you fit specific fraud victim criteria, the Social Security Administration may change your Social Security Number. Report fraud: (800) 269-0271. Order Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement: (800) 772-1213. Web: U.S. Social Security Administration

FOR SUSPECTED MISUSE, CANCEL LONG DISTANCE CALLING CARD ACCOUNTS

If your long distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password which must be used any time the account is changed.

FOR MISSING OR FRAUDULENT PASSPORTS, NOTIFY THE US STATE DEPARTMENT.

Whether you have a passport or not, write the passport office to alert them to anyone ordering a passport fraudulently.

SEEKING LEGAL ADVICE.

You may want to consult a lawyer to determine legal action to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. Call the local Bar Association or Legal Aid office to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act.

For more direct links to resources, see:
 http://www.oispp.ca.gov/consumer_privacy/

This is part of the May 08, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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