We've all heard and read about identity theft, and what to do to prevent it – but if you become a victim, do you know what to do?
If you discover you have been victimized, the first thing you should do, as soon as possible, is to contact your local police or sheriff's department. The police will file a report, and provide you with a copy. Be sure to keep this copy, since you will need it to pursue your case with creditors who have been victimized in your name. You should consider also reporting the incident to your state law enforcement. For a list of state attorneys general, go to www.naag.org.
If someone is illegally using your bank account, close the account right away and ask your bank to notify the check verification service. The service will notify retailers not to honor checks written on the account. To find out if someone is passing bad checks in your name, call Shared Check Authorization Network at 800-262-7771.
If you think someone has opened a new checking account in your name, ask for a free copy of your consumer report from Chex Systems by calling 800-428-9623.
Call one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The law requires the first to contact the other two. The agencies will flag your account, which means that any business that wishes to extend credit to you will first have to verify your identity. Call the credit bureaus at: 800-525-6285, Equifax; 888-397-3742, Experian; 800-680-7289, TransUnion.
Work with your creditors if you find unauthorized charges on your credit report or billing statement. You should also report your case to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-IDTHEFT.
Call the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271 or fill out an online report at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig if your number has been stolen.
If you suspect that a thief is using your mailing address to commit a crime, call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 800-275-8777.
Remember: act quickly. Time is of the essence to prevent further damage to your credit or fraud. Keep accurate records of all conversations, including names, agencies, phone numbers, dates and times. Keep copies of all e-mails. Never mail originals; send out copies instead, notarized if necessary. Use certified mail, return receipt requested.
And above all, be persistent. It can take time and effort to clean up the mess.