Nothing can ruin a day like an unexpected call from a bill collector. If you're a victim of identity theft, however, get yourself a pen and a notebook because you'll have your hands full over the next couple weeks sorting out who else may soon be calling. The good news is that you are not alone in this predicament. The Federal Trade Commission, the police and the credit reporting agencies will be able to help you to figure out what happened and who else may think you owe them money. According to the FTC, some 279,156 identity theft complaints were filed in 2011 alone. Many large businesses have fraud departments trained in dealing with victims of identity theft.
Dealing With Collection Phone Calls
Tell the bill collector you are a victim of identity theft and that you do not owe the money. Ask him to mail you documentation of the debt he says you owe.
Write a letter to the bill collection agency and tell it to stop contacting you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires bill collectors to stop contacting you once you have given them written notice to stop -- regardless of whether you are a victim of identity theft or not. The bill collector may then contact you only one more time: to state that they will stop contacting you, or to state they are taking some specific action against you.
Explain in the letter that you are a victim of identity theft. Include copies (not originals) of documentation you have supporting this, including a copy of your Identity Theft Report. The bill collector must then inform the company claiming the debt that you may be a victim of identity fraud.
Protecting Your Credit Report
Contact a credit-reporting agency. You can call Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Tell the company you are the victim of identity theft and ask it to put a fraud alert on your credit file. This initial fraud report will stay on your credit report for 90 days. Navigate to AnnualCreditReport.com, the site run by the three credit-reporting agencies, and click on the "Fraud Alert" tab for phone numbers and information.
Ask that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be visible on your report.
Confirm that the credit-reporting company you called will contact the other two companies for you.
Ensure the company has your correct address and phone number so it can contact you if necessary.
Ask about your rights. The credit-reporting agency will explain your rights to you, including your right to a free annual credit report.
Ask about placing a freeze on your credit report. This will prevent anyone from getting your credit report and could prevent the thieves from opening new accounts in your name. In some states, this is free, but in others a small fee of about $10 may be involved.
Ask for a free copy of your credit report. Review this report to identify other businesses that may have given the thieves goods or services using your name.
Getting an Identity Theft Report
Go to the FTC Complaint Assistant website and submit a complaint about your identity theft. Print a copy of this report.
Contact the police and file a police report about your identify theft. Bring your FTC report with you. Ask for a copy of the police report.
Make copies of your FTC report and police report. Together, these two documents make an Identity Theft Report.
Review your credit report when it arrives and use it to identify any other businesses that may have given credit, goods or services to the thieves using your name.
Contact each business that was contacted by the thieves and ask to speak to the fraud department. Explain that you were a victim of identity theft. Ask how you can submit your Identity Theft Report.
Renew the initial fraud report you filed with the credit-reporting agency after 90 days if necessary. You may also want to consider placing an extended fraud alert on your file, which will remain in effect for seven years.
- Make notes of all telephone calls and save copies of all documents you send or receive. Send letters by certified mail and ask for a return receipt. This will give you documentation of your correspondence.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.