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Identity Theft Victims: Resolving Specific Problems

Content provided by Federal Trade Commission

While dealing with problems resulting from identity theft can be time-consuming and frustrating, most victims can resolve their cases by being assertive, organized, and knowledgeable about their legal rights. Some laws require you to notify companies within specific time periods. Don't delay in contacting any companies to deal with these problems, and ask for supervisors if you need more help than you're getting.



 

Bank Accounts and Fraudulent Withdrawals

Different laws determine your legal remedies based on the type of bank fraud you have suffered. For example, state laws protect you against fraud committed by a thief using paper documents, like stolen or counterfeit checks. But if the thief used an electronic fund transfer, federal law applies. Many transactions may seem to be processed electronically but are still considered "paper" transactions. If you're not sure what type of transaction the thief used to commit the fraud, ask the financial institution that processed the transaction.

 Fraudulent Electronic Withdrawals

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.

You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is "skimmed"—that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.

If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.

  • If you report the loss or theft within two business days of discovery, your losses are limited to $50.

  • If you report the loss or theft after two business days, but within 60 days after the unauthorized electronic fund transfer appears on your statement, you could lose up to $500 of what the thief withdraws.

  • If you wait more than 60 days to report the loss or theft, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days.

Note: VISA and MasterCard voluntarily have agreed to limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.

The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing by certified letter, return receipt requested so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.

After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.

 Fraudulent Checks and Other "Paper" Transactions

In general, if an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of "paper" transaction such as a demand draft, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.

You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:

To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:

  • TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188
  • Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems) at 1-800-437-5120

To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call:

  • SCAN: 1-800-262-7771

If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver's license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects your check should give you its check verification company contact information so you can find out what information the thief is using. If you find that the thief is using your MICR code, ask your bank to close your checking account, and open a new one. If you discover that the thief is using your driver's license number or some other identification number, work with your DMV or other identification issuing agency to get new identification with new numbers. Once you have taken the appropriate steps, your checks should be accepted.

Note:

  • The check verification company may or may not remove the information about the MICR code or the driver's license/identification number from its database because this information may help prevent the thief from continuing to commit fraud.

  • If the checks are being passed on a new account, contact the bank to close the account. Also contact Chex Systems, Inc. to review your consumer report to make sure that no other bank accounts have been opened in your name.

  • Dispute any bad checks passed in your name with merchants so they don't start any collections actions against you.

 Fraudulent New Accounts

If you have trouble opening a new checking account, it may be because an identity thief has been opening accounts in your name. Chex Systems, Inc. produces consumer reports specifically about checking accounts, and as a consumer reporting company, is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can request a free copy of your consumer report by contacting Chex Systems, Inc. If you find inaccurate information on your consumer report, follow the procedures under Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports to dispute it. Contact each of the banks where account inquiries were made, too. This will help ensure that any fraudulently opened accounts are closed.

Chex Systems, Inc.: 1-800-428-9623; www.chexhelp.com
Fax: 602-659-2197
Chex Systems, Inc.
Attn: Consumer Relations
7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100
Woodbury, MN 55125

 

Bankruptcy Fraud

If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A list of the U.S. Trustee Programs' Regional Offices is available at www.usdoj.gov/ust, or check the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government Bankruptcy Administration.

In your letter, describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The U.S. Trustee will make a criminal referral to law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed. The U.S. Trustee does not provide legal representation, legal advice, or referrals to lawyers. That means you may need to hire an attorney to help convince the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent. The U.S. Trustee does not provide consumers with copies of court documents. You can get them from the bankruptcy clerk's office for a fee.

 

Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report and requires that your report be made available only for certain legitimate business needs.

Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.

 Consumer Reporting Company Obligations

Consumer reporting companies will block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report if you take the following steps: Send them a copy of an identity theft report and a letter telling them what information is fraudulent. The letter also should state that the information does not relate to any transaction that you made or authorized. In addition, provide proof of your identity that may include your Social Security number, name, address, and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company.

The consumer reporting company has four business days to block the fraudulent information after accepting your identity theft report. It also must tell the information provider that it has blocked the information. The consumer reporting company may refuse to block the information or remove the block if, for example, you have not told the truth about your identity theft. If the consumer reporting company removes the block or refuses to place the block, it must let you know.

The blocking process is only one way for identity theft victims to deal with fraudulent information. There's also the "reinvestigation process," which was designed to help all consumers dispute errors or inaccuracies on their credit reports.

 Information Provider Obligations

Information providers stop reporting fraudulent information to the consumer reporting companies once you send them an identity theft report and a letter explaining that the information that they're reporting resulted from identity theft. But you must send your identity theft report and letter to the address specified by the information provider. Note that the information provider may continue to report the information if it later learns that the information does not result from identity theft.

If a consumer reporting company tells an information provider that it has blocked fraudulent information in your credit report, the information provider may not continue to report that information to the consumer reporting company. The information provider also may not hire someone to collect the debt that relates to the fraudulent account, or sell that debt to anyone else who would try to collect it.

 

Credit Cards

The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts. The law also limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. To take advantage of the law's consumer protections, you must:

  • write to the creditor at the address given for "billing inquiries," NOT the address for sending your payments. Include your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error, including the amount and date of the error. See Sample Dispute Letter for Existing Accounts.

  • send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. If an identity thief changed the address on your account and you didn't receive the bill, your dispute letter still must reach the creditor within 60 days of when the creditor would have mailed the bill. This is one reason it's essential to keep track of your billing statements, and follow up quickly if your bills don't arrive on time.

You should send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. It becomes your proof of the date the creditor received the letter. Include copies (NOT originals) of your police report or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter.

The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.

 

Criminal Violations

Procedures to correct your record within criminal justice databases can vary from state to state, and even from county to county. Some states have enacted laws with special procedures for identity theft victims to follow to clear their names. You should check with the office of your state Attorney General, but you can use the following information as a general guide.

If wrongful criminal violations are attributed to your name, contact the police or sheriff's department that originally arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report with the police/sheriff's department or the court, and confirm your identity: Ask the police department to take a full set of your fingerprints, photograph you, and make copies of your photo identification documents, like your driver's license, passport, or travel visa. To establish your innocence, ask the police to compare the prints and photographs with those of the imposter.

If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated.

The law enforcement agency should then recall any warrants and issue a "clearance letter" or "certificate of release" (if you were arrested/booked). You'll need to keep this document with you at all times in case you're wrongly arrested again. Ask the law enforcement agency to file the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence with the district attorney's (D.A.) office and/or court where the crime took place. This will result in an amended complaint. Once your name is recorded in a criminal database, it's unlikely that it will be completely removed from the official record. Ask that the "key name" or "primary name" be changed from your name to the imposter's name (or to "John Doe" if the imposter's true identity is not known), with your name noted as an alias.

You'll also want to clear your name in the court records. To do so, you'll need to determine which state law(s) will help you with this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.'s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.'s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name. You may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.

Finally, contact your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out if your driver's license is being used by the identity thief. Ask that your files be flagged for possible fraud.

 

Debt Collectors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for collection, even if those bills don't result from identity theft.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you in two ways:

  • Write a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, the company may not contact you again with two exceptions: They can tell you there will be no further contact, and they can tell you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.

  • Send a letter to the collection agency, within 30 days after you received written notice of the debt, telling them that you do not owe the money. Include copies of documents that support your position. Including a copy (NOT original) of your police report may be useful. In this case, a collector can renew collection activities only if it sends you proof of the debt.

If you don't have documentation to support your position, be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. The debt collector is responsible for sending you proof that you're wrong. For example, if the debt you're disputing originates from a credit card you never applied for, ask for a copy of the application with the applicant's signature. Then, you can prove that it's not your signature.

If you tell the debt collector that you are a victim of identity theft and it is collecting the debt for another company, the debt collector must tell that company that you may be a victim of identity theft.

While you can stop a debt collector from contacting you, that won't get rid of the debt itself. It's important to contact the company that originally opened the account to dispute the debt, otherwise that company may send it to a different debt collector, report it on your credit report, or initiate a lawsuit to collect on the debt.

 

Driver's License

If you think your name or Social Security number is being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or a non-driver's ID card, contact your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If your state DMV uses your Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.

 

Investment Fraud

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Office of Investor Education and Advocacy serves investors who complain to the SEC about investment fraud or the mishandling of their investments by securities professionals. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the SEC.

You can file a complaint with the SEC's Complaint Center at www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml. Include as much detail as possible. If you don't have Internet access, write to the SEC at: SEC Complaint Center, 100 F Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20549-5990. For answers to general questions, call 1-800-SEC-0330.

 

Mail Theft

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service and investigates cases of identity theft. The USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers, or tax information, or has falsified change-of-address forms or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it to your local postal inspector.

You can locate the USPIS district office nearest you by calling your local post office, checking the Blue Pages of your telephone directory, or visiting www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.

 

Passport Fraud

If you've lost your passport, or believe it was stolen or is being used fraudulently, contact the United States Department of State (USDS) through www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html, or call a local USDS field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.

 

Phone Fraud

If an identity thief has established phone service in your name, is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from and are billed to your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs. If you're having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account or getting an unauthorized account closed, contact the appropriate agency below.

  • For local service, contact your state Public Utility Commission.

  • For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. You can file complaints online, or e-mail your questions to fccinfo@fcc.gov.

 

Social Security Number Misuse

If you have specific information of Social Security number misuse that involves the buying or selling of Social Security cards, may be related to terrorist activity, or is designed to obtain Social Security benefits, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of the Inspector General. You may file a complaint online, call toll-free: 1-800-269-0271, fax: 410-597-0118, or write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.

You also may call SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your Social Security number, request a copy of your Social Security Statement, or get a replacement Social Security number card if yours is lost or stolen. Follow up in writing.

 

Student Loans

Contact the school or program that opened the student loan to close the loan. At the same time, report the fraudulent loan to the U.S. Department of Education. Call the Inspector General's Hotline toll-free at 1-800-MIS-USED; visit www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/hotline.html?src=rt; or write: Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-1510.

 

Tax Fraud

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is responsible for administering and enforcing tax laws. Identity fraud may occur as it relates directly to your tax records. Visit www.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word “Identity Theft” for more information.

If you have an unresolved issue related to identity theft, or you have suffered or are about to suffer a significant hardship as a result of the administration of the tax laws, visit the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service or call toll-free: 1-877-777-4778.

If you suspect or know of an individual or company that is not complying with the tax law, report it to the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Informant Hotline by calling toll-free: 1-800-829-0433 or visit www.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word “Tax Fraud.”

 

What should I do if I've done everything advised, and I’m still having problems?

There are cases where victims do everything right and still spend years dealing with problems related to identity theft. The good news is that most victims can get their cases resolved by being vigilant, assertive and organized. Don't procrastinate on contacting companies to address the problems. Don't be afraid to go up the chain of command or make complaints, if necessary. Keep organized files. If you haven't filed a complaint with the FTC or updated it, you should do so and provide details of the problems that you are having. You also can call the FTC hotline (1-877-ID-THEFT) to talk with one of their counselors or, for individual counseling, contact one of the non-profit victim associations listed under Resources. If your problems are stemming from a failure of a party to perform its legal obligations, you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in such violations. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.