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Identity Theft

Links To Publications About Identity Crimes

Working with Victims of Identity Crimes

Barbara G. Thompson
LECC/Victim Witness
Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys

10.1 Introduction
10.2 What to do first
10.3 Contacting credit bureaus
10.4 Closing accounts
10.5 Closing credit accounts
10.6 ATM cards
10.7 Checks
10.8 Filing police reports
10.9 Mail theft
10.10 Financial institutions
10.11 Investments
10.12 Telephone service
10.13 Social Security Numbers (SSNs)
10.14 Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
10.15 Passports
10.16 Bankruptcy
10.17 Criminal records
10.18 Employment records
10.19 Debt collectors
10.20 Resources
10.21 Sample dispute letter for a credit bureau
10.22 Sample dispute letter for existing credit accounts

10.1 Introduction

My purse was stolen in December 1990. In February 1991, I started getting notices of bounced checks. About a year later, I received information that someone using my identity had defaulted on a number of lease agreements and bought a car. In 1997, I learned that someone had been working under my Social Security number for a number of years. A man had been arrested and used my SSN on his arrest sheet. There's a hit in the FBI computers for my SSN with a different name and gender. I can't get credit because of this situation. I was denied a mortgage loan, employment, credit cards, and medical care for my children. I've even had auto insurance denied, medical insurance and tuition assistance denied.

From a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, January 2, 2001.

Victims of identity crimes can spend long periods of time and thousands of dollars trying to clean up the mess thieves have made of their name and credit history. During this time, victims are likely to encounter difficulties they never thought possible, like losing job opportunities; being refused loans for education, housing, and cars; and even being arrested for crimes they did not commit. Victims often feel humiliated, angry, frustrated, and confused as they go through the various steps of trying to reclaim their identity. Congress and state legislatures are beginning to realize the impact these crimes have on victims. However, the process to reclaim one's identity is still lengthy, and involves an incredible amount of patience and time.

Often, victims want someone to help make things right; especially someone affiliated with the criminal justice system. However, it is the victim that has the necessary information required by financial institutions to resolve any discrepancies. It is important to have a general idea as to the necessary steps a victim needs to take, because while you may not be able to guarantee that everything will work out, you can help guide victims through the process to ensure that they are able to reclaim their identity.

This chapter contains information on what steps victims should take if they are a victim of an identity crime. Being aware of these steps will enable you to assist these victims by providing accurate information. An excellent first resource is the Federal Trade Commission's Web site, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/. This site contains valuable information on identity crimes as well as assistance for victims. Also available on this site is the guide, "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name." This in-depth publication provides step-by-step information for victims, and sample letters and forms, some of which are replicated in this Chapter. It is available in English and Spanish.

10.2 What to do first

There are three basic actions that are appropriate in almost every case. It's important for victims to take these steps right away, and to follow-up all their calls in writing. Send letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep copies for future reference. The three basic actions are:

  1. Contact the credit bureaus;
  2. Close accounts; and
  3. File a police report.

These steps are only the beginning of what will most likely be a long and time consuming process. It is important that the victim be aware of this reality and not have unrealistic expectations of quick resolutions. While it might be tempting to say, "It will be OK," and "Don't worry, they will fix that,"a victim needs to know that this process is long, and will require work on their part. Often a resolution will only come after many months have gone by and numerous letters written. The good news is that resolutions are possible, and by being prepared for what is required, the victim will spend less time getting the runaround and more time getting issues resolved.

10.3 Contacting credit bureaus

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1681-1681(v), both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau (such as a bank or a credit card company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in the credit report once they are made aware of the inaccuracy. It is important for victims to immediately contact the fraud departments of the credit bureau. In doing this, victims should ask specifically for the fraud department, and not the customer service department, as these departments have two distinct purposes.

The victim will need to call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in their file, as well as a victim statement asking creditors to call before opening any new accounts or changing existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in their name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms the fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on the credit report, and all three reports will be sent to the victim free of charge. These will be needed for future correspondence and discrepancy claims. These initial calls will most likely be handled by an automated system, and the victim will not be able to speak with a person until they have received a copy of their credit report.

Note. Fraud alerts and victim statements are voluntary services provided by credit bureaus. Creditors do not have to consider them when granting credit. In addition, fraud alerts and victim statements expire, and need to be renewed periodically.

Once the reports are received, the victim needs to review them carefully and determine what charges are fraudulent. These reports should contain information as to whom to contact to dispute any charges, but the victim can always contact the credit bureau's fraud department and speak to someone once they have their credit report in hand.

It is also advisable for the victim to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened or unauthorized charges made to their accounts. It is also good to check the section of the report that lists inquiries to the accounts. Where inquiries appear from companies that opened fraudulent accounts, a request that these be removed from the report should be submitted. It is important for a victim to follow up these calls with a written request.

When following up phone conversations with a written request, it is recommended that the victim include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support their position. Letters should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, in order to document what the credit bureau received and when. In addition to providing the victim's complete name and address, the letter should clearly identify each item in the report that is being disputed, explain why the information is being disputed, and request deletion or correction. A sample letter appears as Section 10.21 of this Chapter. It is important to keep copies of any letters and enclosures.

In addition to writing the credit bureau, it is a good idea for the victim to write the creditor or information provider and notify them that an item is being disputed. Again, copies and not originals of documents should be included, and letters should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

It is also advisable for the victim to follow up with the credit bureaus a few months after the initial contact and order new copies of their credit reports to verify that the corrections and changes have been completed, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

Credit bureaus are required to provided a response to victims once a dispute has been received. The credit bureau's investigation must be completed within thirty days of notification (forty-five days if additional documents are provided). If the credit bureau considers the dispute frivolous, it must say so within five business days. Once the credit bureau's investigation is complete, they must provide the written results and, if the dispute results in a change, a free copy of the victim's credit report to the victim.

Contact Information for Credit Bureaus

TransUnion
Internet http://www.transunion.com
E-mail fvad@transunion.com
To report fraud, call 1-800-680-7289 or TDD 1-877-553-7803
Fax: (714) 447-6034
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, California 92634-6790
To order a copy of a credit report, call 1-800-888-4213

Equifax
Internet http://www.equifax.com
To report fraud, call 1-800-525-6285 or TDD 1-800-255-0056
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0241
To order a copy of a credit report, call 1-800-685-1111

Experian
Internet http://www.experian.com
To report fraud, call 1-888-397-3742 or TDD 1-800-972-0322
P.O. Box 9532
Allen, Texas 75013
To order a copy of a credit report, call 1-888-397-3742

10.4 Closing accounts

The next step is to close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Below is a breakdown of how to do this, depending on the type of account that needs to be closed.

10.5 Closing credit accounts

Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, phone companies, utilities, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and other service providers. If a victim closes one account and opens a new one, it is important for them to use a new Personal Identification Number (PIN) and password. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has numerous resources for assisting victims in getting organized, making sure victims have all the required information needed by companies, and making this process a little easier. One of these forms is the Identity Theft Affidavit. This form can be found on the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/, and can be used when corresponding with the various companies to dispute charges made to accounts, if the company accepts them.

For new unauthorized accounts the victim can complete the Identity Theft Affidavit mentioned above and submit it to the company with the appropriate attachments. If the company does not accept this form, the victim will need to ask the representative to send the company's fraud dispute forms.

For existing accounts the Truth in Lending Act usually limits the liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. 15 U.S.C. § 1643. However, to take advantage of this protection, a victim must contact the company at the address or phone number provided for "billing inquiries," not the payments section. The company will need to send their fraud dispute forms to the victim.

If the company doesn't have a specific form, a letter should be submitted to the company. A sample letter appears as Section 10.22 of this Chapter. In this letter, the victim needs to include their name, address, account number and a description of the fraudulent charge, including the amount and date of the error. This letter should reach the creditor within sixty days from when the first bill containing the fraudulent charge was mailed, even if the victim never received the bill.

The letter should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. The creditor must acknowledge the complaint in writing within thirty days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but no more than ninety days) after receiving the letter.

The victim should insist on a letter from the creditor stating that the disputed account has been closed, and that they have absolved the victim of the fraudulent debts. This letter is the best defense if errors reappear or a victim's personal information gets re-circulated.

10.6 ATM cards

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1693-1693r, provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM debit card, or any other electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits the liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers. If an ATM card has been lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised, the card should be canceled as soon as possible. A new card with a new PIN should be acquired.

If a report that the ATM card has been lost or stolen is filed within two business days of discovering the loss or theft, the losses are limited to $50. If it is reported after the two business days, but within sixty days after a statement showing an unauthorized electronic fund transfer, the victim can be liable for up to $500 of the amount withdrawn. If is it more than sixty days, the victim can be responsible for all the money that was taken from the account from the end of the sixty days to the time the card was reported missing. However, VISA and MasterCard have voluntarily agreed to limit consumer liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, regardless of how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.

10.7 Checks

If checks have been stolen or misused, a stop payment should be applied and the bank notified. The bank needs to be asked to notify the check verification service with which it does business. While no federal law limits losses if someone steals checks and forges a signature, state laws may protect the victim. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check, but most states require the victim to take reasonable care of the account. For example, a victim may be held responsible for the forgery if they fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen.

A victim can also contact the major check verification companies directly to request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept their checks: TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188; Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems) at 1-800-437-5120; and International Check Services at 1-800-631-9656. If the victim would like to find out if someone is passing bad checks in their name, they can call SCAN at 1-800-262-7771.

Victims should keep a log of all conversations, including the date, name, and telephone number of anyone contacted. The log should indicate the amount of time spent on these calls, and any expenses incurred, to document a later restitution request.

10.8 Filing police reports

A police report should be filed with the local police, or the police in the community where the identity crime took place. Although some police departments might be hesitant about taking the time to file a report, it is important that this step be taken, because under the voluntary "Police Report Initiative," credit bureaus will automatically block fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on credit reports, but only if a copy of a police report is provided. Sometimes, if the local police will not take a report, the county police will, and if the county police are not able to help, a victim can contact the state police for the police report. If a victim is told that identity theft is not a crime under his or her state law, they can ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead. The victim should request a copy of the police report, as banks, credit card companies, and others frequently need proof in order to erase the bad debts created by the thief, but if the victim cannot get an actual copy of the report, in some cases, the report number may be sufficient.

When filing the police report, it is important that the victim provide as much documentation as possible. Debt collection letters, credit reports, and a notarized Identity Theft Affidavit can help the police file a complete report.

10.9 Mail theft

The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service, and has primary jurisdiction in matters involving the United States mail. If an identity thief has stolen mail, it should be reported to a local postal inspector. A phone number for the nearest postal inspection service office can be found on the United States Postal Service's web site at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.

10.10 Financial institutions

As previously mentioned, if an identity thief has obtained financial information, the bank, brokerage firm, credit union, credit card company, etc., should be contacted, the affected accounts closed, and new accounts opened with new PINs and passwords.

If a victim encounters problems getting financial institutions to help them resolve banking-related issues, there are other agencies that can help. There are five main entities which oversee the various financial institutions. Depending on the type of institution the victim is having difficulties with, one of the following entities should be able to provide assistance.

  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) supervises state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System and insures deposits at banks and savings and loans.

    http://www.fdic.gov
    Consumer Call Center 1-800-934-3342
    FDIC, Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs
    550 17th Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20429

  • The Federal Reserve System supervises state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System.

    http://www.federalreserve.gov
    202 452-3693
    Division of Consumer and Community Affairs
    Mail Stop 801
    Federal Reserve Board
    Washington, DC 20551

  • The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) charters and supervises federal credit unions and insures deposits at federal credit unions and many state credit unions.

    http://www.ncua.gov
    703 518-6360
    Compliance Officer
    NCUA
    1775 Duke Street
    Alexandria, VA 22314

  • The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) charters and supervises national banks. If the word "national" appears in the name of a bank, or the initials "N.A." follow its name, the OCC oversees its operations.

    http://www.occ.treas.gov
    1-800-613-6743
    Customer Assistance Group
    1301 McKinney Street
    Suite 3710
    Houston, TX 77010

  • The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) is the primary regulatory of all federal, and many state-chartered, thrift institutions, which include savings banks and savings and loan institutions.

    http://www.ots.treas.gov
    202 906-6000
    OTS
    1700 G Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20552

10.11 Investments

If a victim believes that someone has tampered with security investments or brokerage accounts, the broker or account manager should be immediately contacted, and the victim should file a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at their online Complaint Center at http://www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml. If the victim does not feel comfortable filing a complaint over the Internet, a written complaint can be filed at the SEC Office of Investor Education and Assistance, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20549-0213.

10.12 Telephone service

If phone service has fraudulently been established in a victim's name, calling cards fraudulently used, or billing for unauthorized service made to an existing account, the victim should contact the service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card, and open new accounts with new PINs and passwords.

For local service, the victim should contact the state Public Utility Commission. For cellular phones and long distance, the victim should contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to file a complaint. A complaint can be filed with the FCC at the FCC Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. Complaints can also be filed online at http://www.fcc.gov.

10.13 Social Security Numbers (SSNs)

If someone is using a victim's SSN to apply for a job or for job-related activities, it should be reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The victim can visit the SSA's web site at http://www.ssa.gov, call the SSA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271, or file a report by writing to the SSA Fraud Hotline at P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore MD 21235.

The victim should also call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported under their SSN, and to request a copy of their Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement. If a SSN has been fraudulently used, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Taxpayer Advocates Office should be contacted. The fraudulent use of an SSN might result in the appearance of under-reported income, and an attempt by the IRS to collect taxes. The IRS Taxpayer Advocates Office can be contacted at 1-877-777-4778.

10.14 Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

If someone has fraudulently obtained a driver's license or an identification card in a victim's name through a DMV office, the local DMV should be contacted, and a fraud alert should be placed in the file.

10.15 Passports

If a passport has been lost or stolen, the United States State Department should be contacted at Passport Services, Correspondence Branch, 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 510 Washington, DC, 20036.

10.16 Bankruptcy

If someone has fraudulently filed for bankruptcy in a victim's name, the United States Trustee should be contacted in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A listing of the United States Trustees can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/ust. A written complaint must be filed describing the situation and providing proof of the victim's identity. The United States Trustee, if appropriate, will make a referral to criminal law enforcement authorities. See also Chapter 8 of this Manual.

10.17 Criminal records

An identity thief may create a criminal record under a victim's name by providing the victim's identity when arrested. If this is discovered, the victim should contact the arresting (or citing) law enforcement agency, file an impersonation report, and have their identity confirmed. This will involve having the police department take a full set of fingerprints and photographs. If an arrest warrant has been issued in a state other than where the victim lives, the local police department should send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated. It might also be helpful for the victim to get an attorney to help resolve these types of problems, as procedures for clearing one's name may vary by jurisdiction.

10.18 Employment records

Credit bureaus must send notices of corrections made to a victim's credit report to anyone who received a copy of the victim's credit history report in the past six months. Additionally, job applicants can have a corrected copy of their report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.

10.19 Debt collectors

Victims can stop debt collectors from contacting them regarding fraudulent debts by writing a letter to the collection agency. The letter should state that no money is owed, and copies of supporting documents, especially the police reports, should be enclosed. Victims lacking documentation to support their position need to be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. It is important that this letter be sent certified mail, return-receipt requested. Once the debt collector receives the letter, the company may not contact the victim again except in two instances. They can tell the victim there will be no further contact, or they can state that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.

Although this letter should stop the debt collector's calls and notices, it will not necessarily get rid of the debt itself, which may still turn up on the victim's credit report. The victim will have to work with the specific company that has turned over the debt for collection.

If a debt collector disagrees with the victim, they are responsible for sending the victim proof, and the victim should ask for this documentation. For example, if the debt in dispute originates from a credit card that the victim never applied for, a victim should ask for the actual application containing the applicant's signature. In many cases, the debt collector will not send any proof, but will instead return the debt to the creditor.

10.20 Resources

  • Each United States Attorney's Office has a Victim-Witness program managed by a Victim-Witness Coordinator (VWC) to assist victims as they encounter the prosecution phase of the federal criminal justice system. The VWC is responsible for ensuring that victims and witnesses receive notification of case status, referrals to agencies for shelter, counseling, and compensation. The VWCs have local resources they are able to tap into or refer to victims of identity crimes. For cases involving numerous victims located in various states, the VWCs can work with their counterparts in other states to inquire about resources in a specific area.
  • Victims of identity crimes should also be encouraged to report their complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for filing in its secure victim database. Victims should be referred to the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338), or online at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/. Counselors will take their complaint and advise the victim on how to work with the credit-related problems that could result. Law enforcement agencies use complaints filed with the FTC to gather cases, spot patterns, and track growth in identity crimes. This information can then be used to improve investigations and victim assistance.

The FTC's guide, "ID Theft, When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name," explains in detail the steps that identity crime victims can take to inform credit reporting agencies, credit issuers, law enforcement authorities, and other agencies of the improper use of their identification information. This guide also provides educational information, including preventive measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of becoming victims of identity theft.

The FTC can be contacted on line at http://www.ftc.gov. Additional publications are listed at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/, and include:

  • Getting Purse-onal: What To Do If Your Wallet or Purse Is Stolen;
  • Identity Crisis . . . What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen;
  • Identity Thieves Can Ruin Your Good Name: Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft;
  • Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud;
  • Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What to Do If They're Lost or Stolen;
  • Credit Card Loss Protection Offers: They're The Real Steal;
  • Electronic Banking;
  • Fair Credit Billing;
  • Fair Credit Reporting;
  • Fair Debt Collection;
  • How to Dispute Credit Report Errors.

To request free copies, call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

10.21 Sample dispute letter for a credit bureau

Date

Victim's Name
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Complaint Department
Name of Credit Bureau
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items disputed are circled on the attached copy of the report I received. [Identify items disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.]

I am a victim of identity theft, and did not make the charge(s). I am requesting that the item be blocked to correct my credit report.

Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation] supporting my position. Please investigate this (these) matter(s) and block the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Victim Name

Enclosures: [List what is being enclosed]

10.22 Sample dispute letter for existing credit accounts

Date

Victim Name
Address
City, States, Zip Code
Account Number Being Disputed

Name of Creditor
Billing Inquires
Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute a fraudulent (charge or debit) attributed to my account in the amount of $. I am a victim of an identity crime, and I did not make this [charge or debit]. I am requesting that the [charge be removed or the debit reinstated], that any finance and other charges related to the fraudulent amount be credited as well, and that I receive an accurate statement.

Enclosed are copies of (describe any enclosed information, such as police report) supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the fraudulent [charge or debit] as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Victim Name

Enclosures: [List what is being enclosed]

Updated April 21, 2015