Identity Theft - a Guide for Consumers
Identity theft happens when one individual uses the personal identifying information of another person without permission. Often, perpetrators of identity theft fraudulently open credit card accounts, obtain loans, and even open accounts with service providers like utilities. An identity thief with access to your personal information and knowledge of a credit card number that does belong to you can use that credit card to run up thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases.
All too often, victims of identity theft are (at least temporarily) stuck with substantial debts that do not belong to them and find that their credit has been decimated. Debt collectors begin calling (and that is often the victim's first indication that he or she has been the victim of identity theft). Sometimes, an identity thief will use stolen personal information to try to obtain benefits and tax refunds that rightfully belong to the victim.
I suspect I am a victim of identity theft. What should I do?
- Check your credit reports with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. By reviewing your credit reports -- or having an attorney at Sherman & Ticchio review them with you -- you can see whether the identity thief has applied for credit and/or opened accounts in your name.
- If you find any suspicious information on your credit reports, immediately contact all of your creditors, both for legitimate and fraudulent accounts, and tell them that your identity has been stolen.
- Call Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and instruct them to put a freeze on your credit file (once in place, a credit freeze should prevent new fraudulent credit accounts from being opened in your name).
- If you have not done so already, contact Sherman & Ticchio for your free consultation. Our law firm deals with identity theft issues on a daily basis.
- Keep careful records of everything you learn about the identity theft and take notes while relevant information is still on your mind. If you eventually find yourself in litigation, it may be many months before you have the chance to tell your story. You will want to be able to refer to your notes so you can clearly and accurately describe what happened when the time comes.
- Keep all relevant documents in a safe place. This is true for letters and/or emails from bill collectors or creditors, credit alerts you receive from a credit monitoring service, and all other documents that you feel may possibly relate to the identity theft or the consequences of identity theft. It is always a good idea to scan these documents, along with your notes, and keep them in a secure folder on your computer.
- Go to your local police precinct and file a police report stating everything you know about the identity theft. Many police departments do not like to take reports about identity theft and may discourage you from filing an identity theft report or complaint. Be persistent.
- File an identity theft affidavit with the FTC. **Note, read and follow the affidavit instructions carefully. Sherman & Ticchio can help you with this.
- Dispute inaccurate and fraudulent information to the credit bureaus. Again, this is something Sherman & Ticchio can advise you about and we recommend that you contact our firm or another qualified consumer attorney before you make your disputes.
If you dispute before contacting an attorney, be sure to consult with one (whether it is our firm or another), as soon as possible. Sherman & Ticchio takes its fees from a portion of the recovery on your case. You will never receive a bill from our firm.
Identity theft is common. Identity theft can be scary. But with the right professional assistance, most consequences of identity theft can be addressed and remedied.