How do you find out your identity is stolen?
Dan: That can be very complicated. There are varying degrees of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission considers if someone steals your credit card information to be ID theft. However, those are pretty easy to catch. Your credit card company can see that you live in Tennessee; why are there transactions going on in California? The more complicated things to find are when someone takes out a new credit card or a new driver’s license in your name. The only way we can really find out about those is to keep an eye on our credit reports. You are allowed to receive 1 free credit report per year from each of the credit reporting bureaus. Essentially, you can see your report once every four months. That’s the best way, to keep an eye on those credit reports. If you start getting calls from creditors about homes you don’t own, you know something’s not right. Also, when credit cards get stolen, credit card companies will often give you free credit reporting for a year. It would behoove you to take them up on that offer.
What’s the first thing you should do when you discover your identity has been stolen?
Dan: First of all, the FTC’s website is a treasure trove of information for when you’re going through something like this. The website is www.FTC.gov
and is a great resource. The very first thing you will want to do is file a formal complaint with the FTC. They will send you back some documentation that you can send to the local police department. You will want to file a police report and they will want to see the official complaint from the FTC. Those things combined together you can present to your creditors and the credit bureaus and essentially say “My ID has legitimately been stolen and I need you to help me put a stop to all this.” The good thing is that with all the current laws, they really help you the end user to get ahead of this thing. Unfortunately, this can be very time consuming and can be very expensive to get out from under.
Do some of these situations have positive outcomes?
Dan: They can, yes. The credit reporting services are set up to help us on this issue. But like I was saying, it can be very expensive. Say, if someone buys a house in your name or rents an apartment and runs up a huge bill. Those are hard to get away from, especially when the bills are turned over to the creditors. They’re hound dogs anyway and will wear you out. It can be a very big deal.