According to a recent study, more than 14.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft in 2018. To put that into perspective, nearly 6% of U.S. adult consumers were victims of identity theft in 2018. The impact to the lives of these consumers is difficult to quantify: damaged credit reports, lowered credit scores, lost money, lost time, loan denials, housing denials, lost jobs, harassment from debt collectors, and significant emotional distress.
Our firm helps victims of identity theft. We do not charge any fees for consultations. Below is helpful information related to identity theft protections under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and other laws. If you have any questions or concerns about potential identity theft, please reach out to the attorneys at Weiner & Sand for help.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when a thief obtains information about a consumer, and then uses that information to obtain credit, loans, goods, and other services in the consumer's name. The imposter can inflict serious damage to the victim, including unpaid credit cards, emptied bank accounts, foreclosed mortgages, default judgments, eviction records, and ruined credit reports. Generally speaking, there are two types of financial fraud committed by identity thieves:
- Use of the victim's existing accounts. This form of identity theft occurs when a thief gains access to a person's existing credit cards, bank accounts, or other accounts. Most often this happens when an identity thief steals a person's credit card or obtains the credit card number by other means. In these situations, victims of identity theft will find errors on their credit card statement for these unauthorized charges.
- Opening new accounts in the victim's name. New account identity theft occurs when a thief uses a person's identity to open new lines of credit or other accounts in the victim's name. The new accounts then appear on the victim's credit report. When the thief does not pay the bills, the accounts go to into collections and appear as negative items of information on the victim's credit report.
What Are The Signs of Identity Theft?
There are many warning signs of identity theft. You should frequently check your credit reports for any suspicious activity. For more information about how to check your credit reports, click HERE. Some of the warning signs of identity theft include:
Debts or accounts on your credit report that do not belong to you
Charges on your accounts that are unfamiliar
Inquiries that you do not recognize, and
Names or addresses on your credit report that do not belong to you.
Withdrawals or charges from your bank account that you did not authorize
Charges on your billing statements for goods or services you did not purchase
Changes to the addresses on your accounts
Debt collectors contacting you about debts that do not belong to you
Notice from the IRS that one or mor tax returns have been filed in your name
Notice on your tax returns about income from an employer you never worked for
Medical bills for services you did not use or receive
Notice that your personal information was compromised by a data breach
HOW TO FIX IDENTITY THEFT
What are the steps to fix identity theft? This is a complex question with many moving parts. The steps below are intended to help guide you, but if you have questions please reach out to our firm for help. We do not charge for consultations.
- Check your credit reports for any signs of identity theft. Review your credit reports for accounts or information that does not belong to you. This may include names, aliases, addresses, and employment history that do not belong to you. It may also include accounts that you did not open, or charges to existing accounts that you did not make. For additional information on how to obtain your credit report, click HERE.
- Place an Initial Fraud Alert on your credit reports. A fraud alert is free, and it requires business to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. This helps prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You can place an initial fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three CRA's below. You should get a letter from each credit bureau confirming they placed a fraud alert on your file:
- Contact the fraud departments at the companies where the fraud has occurred. Notify the companies that you are a victim of identity theft and demand that they close the accounts. If you have obtained an FTC Identity Theft Report and/or a police report (see below for details), then you may also consider sending each company a letter disputing the fraud and including those documents with your dispute.
- Change your passwords, logins, and pin numbers for your accounts. Do not re-use old passwords, and be sure to use passwords that cannot be easily guessed.
- Obtain an Identity Theft Affidavit Report with the FTC. The Identity Theft Report is critical to the remaining steps below. This report triggers specific legal obligations for the credit bureaus when they receive your disputes. To obtain an FTC Identity Theft Report complete this online form found HERE. Save and print the affidavit. Keep it for your records.
- File a report with your local police department, and obtain a copy of the police report. After you receive a your FTC Identity Theft Report, take it to your local police department and file a police report. Tell the police that you are a victim of identity theft, and provide as much detail as possible including any documents that may support your case (bills, letters, credit reports, etc.). If the police department refuses to give you a police report, provide them with this letter from the FTC Memo to Law Enforcement regarding the importance of the identity theft reports: HERE. The police report combined with your FTC Identity Theft Report will become important tools in correcting the harm caused by identity theft.
- Send disputes to the credit reporting agencies. As part of your disputes explain that you are a victim of identity theft and specify what information in your credit file is the result of fraud. If you have an FTC Identity Theft Report and/or a police report, then be sure to include those documents with your dispute. If you include an FTC Identity Theft Report, the credit bureaus must block the fraudulent information from your credit reports. If you don't have an FTC Identity Theft Report, you should still send a dispute. It will initiate a different type of investigation by the credit bureaus, but it will still result in the information being investigated and hopefully removed from your credit reports. If you need additional information about how to dispute information on your credit reports, click HERE. The following is the contact information for each of the credit bureaus:f
By Phone: (800) 864-2978
By Mail: Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374
By Phone: (888) 397-3742
By Mail: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allent, TX 75013
By Phone: (800) 916-8800
By Mail: TransUnion LLC, Consumer Dispute Center, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
- Add an Extended Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze. The best tools to prevent an identity thief from opening additional new accounts are extended fraud alerts and credit freezes. These are slightly different tools, both are effective:
Extended Fraud Alert: An extended fraud alert stays on a consumer's credit file for 7 years. It requires potential creditors to contact the consumer by phone (or in any manner required by the consumer) before issuing credit in the consumer's name. If an identity thief attempts to open an account in your name, the creditor is required to contact you first. You can shutdown the theft before it happens, and may also be able to catch the thief in the act. Extended Fraud Alerts also require that the CRAs remove your name from marketing lists for pre-screened credit offers for five years, unless you request otherwise. Placing a fraud alert on your credit file should not affect your credit score.
Credit Freeze: Most states have laws that allow consumers to “freeze” their credit report. A credit freeze stops all access to your credit report unless you lift it. Even if an identity thief has your name, address, social security number, and date of birth, they will not be able to obtain new loans or credit in your name. This is because banks, lenders, and businesses require access to your credit report to approve you for credit, loans, goods, and services. The credit freeze stops access to your credit report. A credit freeze should also not affect your credit score.
To freeze your credit report or place an Extended Fraud Alert on your file, contact the credit bureaus:
Identity theft is a rampant problem. The more our personal data is exchanged on the internet through social media, websites, and e-commerce, the risk for identity theft increases. Navigating the steps to correct and prevent identity theft can be difficult, and at times overwhelming. The credit bureaus may not listen to your disputes, and the banks, credit card companies, and lenders may refuse to correct the problem. This is illegal, and you have rights under the law. People often turn to companies that charge fees to help with identity theft. These companies provide little value to consumers, and can make things worse by sending inadequate dispute letters that do not fix the problem and wasting a victim's time and money.
Do not waste your time and money with companies that offer little value in correcting and preventing identity theft. The attorneys at Weiner & Sand have decades of experience assisting victims of id theft, and we do not charge a fee for doing so. We also routinely litigate identity theft lawsuits against the credit bureaus, banks, and other furnishers. We have obtained six-figure jury verdicts for our clients in identity theft cases, and settled millions of dollars in confidential settlement for victims of identity theft. If you need help, please reach out to us.