Identity theft: What to do if it happens to you

The incidence of identity theft is keeping pace with the credit crisis – as more people’s credit scores shrink, more thieves come out of the woodwork.

Why? Because people whose credit is shot still want to buy things. The dishonest ones have found an easy route to accomplish that – they’ll just use your good credit.

If you learn that you’re a victim, here’s a step by step plan to get your credit back on track and erase the effects of theft.

1. If you get notice from a collection agency, first check to make sure that the agency is on the up and up. Bogus collection notices are a phishing scheme – designed to steal your identity or take money under false pretenses. Google the agency, then call the Better Business Bureau.

2. Contact your local law enforcement and report the theft. Get a case number.

3. Contact the FTC at and get the form to fill out. You’ll need to get this notarized. Follow the FTC instructions.

4. Call the FTC ID theft hotline: 1-877-438-4336 to register your name on the national list of victims. Record your reference number.

5. Contact the fraud unit at the collection agency and register a dispute. FAX them a copy of the FTC form and the police report.

6. Contact the credit card issuer or bank involved in the discovered theft. FAX them the documentation. Get your account numbers changed to prevent further use.

7. Contact one of the major credit bureaus to put a fraud alert on your account. The one you contact will pass the information on to the others.
Equifax: 800-525-6285
TransUnion: 800-680-7289
Experian: 888-397-3742

8. Consider putting a freeze on your credit report so that it cannot be accessed without your permission. Reading your report is one way that identity thieves choose their victims. After all, there’s no sense stealing someone’s identity if their credit is no better than your own! They want the “excellent credit identities!”

Note that stealing your actual accounts is not the only method of stealing your identity in use today. Now some thieves are merely stealing your information to print on bogus checks – many of which are not even tied to an actual checking account. It comes back on you because your name and information is printed on the check. The checks are passed using fake ID.

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Disclaimer: This information has been compiled and provided by as an informational service to the public. While our goal is to provide information that will help consumers to manage their credit and debt, this information should not be considered legal advice. Such advice must be specific to the various circumstances of each person's situation, and the general information provided on these pages should not be used as a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.