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Tips for Victims of Identity Theft

Sometimes even people who take careful precautions to guard their private information from identity theft are victimized through no fault of their own. Important personal data is stolen by dishonest employees or contractors from banks, insurance companies, government agencies, medical providers and other third parties maintaining private information of customers and clients. Laptops containing such data are lost or stolen with surprising frequency. Commercial or government databases may be compromised. Once personal identifying information is stolen, it may be sold in batches on the black market to other identity thieves. If you have been the victim of identity theft through these or other methods, an attorney with knowledge of consumer protection laws at Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can advise you about possible legal remedies.

Discovery of the Crime

Sometimes months or years pass before the identity theft victim discovers his or her personal identifying information, such as drivers’ license number, Social Security number, passport number, date of birth, bank account numbers or other important data has been stolen and used by an impostor. The victim may notice charges to or withdrawals from an account he or she did not make. Refusal of a credit application may tip off the wronged party that someone has fraudulently used the victim’s identity to apply for credit or make charged purchases. Credit reports may reflect financial and credit activity that the victim never undertook. In extreme situations, an identity theft victim may face arrest and prosecution for a crime he or she did not commit, but that someone perpetrated in the wronged party’s name.

Take Immediate Action

Once you discover the misuse of your identity, start keeping a log to record the details of all steps you take to uncover and correct the problem, and keep copies of all relevant documents. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take many hours — even weeks or months — to undo the damage. Take care during this time to appropriately handle the stress of the situation. Victims report feeling personally violated, with normal responses ranging from fear to anger to despair.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the main U.S. consumer protection agency. The FTC recommends four important steps:

  1. Place a fraud alert — Contact one of the three main credit reporting bureaus and request that a fraud alert be reflected on your credit reports. (TransUnion 800-916-8800; Experian 888-EXPERIAN; Equifax 888-548-7878.) The company you choose to contact must alert the other two. You can first place an initial alert for 90 days. Once you make a report to law enforcement, you can place an extended alert for seven years. The alert on your credit report requires businesses to verify your identity before issuing credit.
  2. Close accounts — Contact all financial institutions and businesses affected by the identity theft. Close accounts wrongfully used or fraudulently opened. Work with each company’s fraud department to resolve the matter.
  3. File a police report — Report the crime to your local police and/or to the police in the city where the crime occurred. It may also be important to report the crime to other government agencies, depending on the circumstances, such as your state Attorney General, the U.S. Postal Service, the Social Security Administration, or your state motor vehicle department.
  4. File an FTC complaint — The FTC maintains an electronic identity theft clearinghouse of complaints available to domestic and international law enforcement. You can file by phone (877-IDTHEFT or TDD 866-653-4261), by mail or online.

Further Legal Action

The FTC provides more valuable information and guidance at their identity theft website. A lawyer familiar with identity fraud from Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can advise about other important actions you can take, including the possibility of civil lawsuits.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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