What if Identity Theft Prevention Doesn't Work?

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Identity theft prevention, also known as personal security planning, is not all that different than personal financial planning, if you think about it. Through personal security planning, you gain greater control over your identity and your security, and enjoy the peace of mind knowing you are less visible and vulnerable to the most common forms of identity theft.

Maybe it was that credit card receipt you lost. Maybe it had something to do with your brother-in-law's rummaging through your den on his last visit. Maybe it was connected to that recent theft of personal information from your bank's database. Whatever the cause might be, your identity theft prevention system failed, and your identity has been stolen. Now what?

Steps to Take When Identity Theft Prevention Doesn't Work

1. Your first step when identity theft prevention efforts fail is to notify the fraud unit at one of the credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — that your identity has been stolen. (Once one credit bureau has been notified, it will contact the other two for you.) Ask the bureau to place a fraud alert on your personal information file and to let creditors know that they need to call you before they extend credit in your name.

The contact information for the three credit bureaus is as follows:

TransUnion

  • P.O. Box 2000
    Chester, PA, 19022
  • Reprot fraud: Call 800-680-7289, and write to the address above. TDD: 877-553-7803
  • E-mail (fraud victims only):
  • Web: www.transunion.com

Equifax

  • P.O. Box 70241
    Atlanta, GA, 30374
  • Reprot fraud: Call 800-525-6285, and write to the address above. TDD: 800-255-0056
  • Web: www.equifax.com

Experian

  • P.O. Box 2002
    Allen, TX, 75013
  • Reprot fraud: Call 888-397-3742, and write to the address above. TDD: Use relay to fraud number above.
  • Web: www.experian.com

2. Next, write to each of the bureaus immediately via certified, return-receipt mail to request a free copy of your credit report and an extension of the fraud alert to seven years. (Fraud alerts are a vital tool in identity theft prevention. To receive a seven-year extension, you'll need to include a police report of the identity theft with your correspondence. You can cancel the fraud alert at any time). Go through each of your credit reports with a fine-toothed comb, noting each and every fraudulent account and any other inaccurate information. Report everything you find in writing to the credit bureaus as well as to any and all creditors involved in the fraudulent transactions. (The credit reports will come with instructions on how to do so. You can also find a sample dispute letter at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.)

3. Close any and all accounts found in your credit reports that point to identity fraud. Call the institutions involved, then follow up with written correspondence via certified, return-receipt mail. Include copies of all documents that point to the illegal activities (keep the originals in a bank safe deposit box or other secure area).

4. File a police report with the police department in your town or in the town or city where the identity theft occurred. Be sure to pick up a copy of the police report or at least the number of the report, which can help substantiate your claim of identity theft in the eyes of your creditors.

5. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC gathers information to help local and federal law enforcement officials in their identity theft prevention efforts, and the agency can refer your complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action.

To file a complaint online, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft. You can also call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or, for TTY access, at 1-866-653-4261. You can also file your complaint by writing to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

If you come across any additional information or problems related to your identity, be sure to call the Identity Theft Hotline to update your complaint.

6. Look into services designed to help you restore your identity. Identity restoration can be a long, involved process. You may want to use an Identity Restoration Service to guide you through the entire process. They'll investigate your specific case, look for other signs of identity theft committed in your name, and help you file the proper paperwork and take the necessary steps to address the damage that's likely been done to your credit rating.

The FTC is continually working to find additional, proactive steps for identity theft prevention. Be sure to visit the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ for more information about restoring your identity and about identity theft prevention.

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