Fraud and the stealing of another person’s identity is not a new concern. However, the complexity of the problem has changed over the years. It used to be that people stored their personal information in a safe at home or in a filing cabinet. Now people store their personal information on their computers and hand held devices. These factors have exacerbated the problem of identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person uses your personal information such as your name, social security number, credit card or other type of account to either commit fraud or commit other crimes. I have assisted clients who have had their personal information stolen and I can attest that it takes several months, even years, to clean up the mess made of your credit record. Victims of identity theft can lose job opportunities, be refused for loans, get sued for debts they did not incur or even get arrested for crimes they did not commit. Within the last year, I have represented at least two senior citizens who have been sued for consumer debts that they did not know existed. We were able to get these law suits dismissed, but it took a lot of time and effort to make it happen.
What do you do if you believe your personal information has been stolen? Here are a few suggestions. First, flag your credit reports by calling one of the nationwide credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you contact must pass the fraud alert along to the other credit reporting companies. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Secondly, order your credit reports so that you can see what is going on with your credit. Each company’s credit report about you is slightly different so it is suggested that you order it from all three companies. Read your report carefully to see if the information is correct. Contact the credit reporting company if you see mistakes or signs of fraud. Lastly, create an identity theft report. Taking this step can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report. In order to create an identity theft report you need to file a complaint with the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint or call 1-877-438-4338. The complaint that you fill out is called an FTC Affidavit. You will then want to take your FTC Affidavit to your local police department, or to the police who have jurisdiction over where the theft occurred, and file a police report. Be sure to get a copy of the police report. The FTC has a good web site to answer many questions about identity theft, and I will admit that much of the information contained in this article came from this web site.
There are various things you can do to protect your personal information, including shredding documents with personal information, creating a variety of passwords for your online accounts, only shopping online on web sites that use encryption and using anti-virus software and a firewall on your computer. One other proactive step you can take is to regularly obtain and read your credit reports. Under current law, you have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. These can be obtained by going to annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
Be proactive in trying to prevent identity theft. Use the tools available to you to protect yourself.
This article is published for information purposes only. It is not intended nor is it to be used as a substitute for independent legal advice.
Stu Weliever practices law with HENTHORN, HARRIS & WELIEVER, P.C., 122 E Main St, Crawfordsville, Indiana, and can be reached at (765) 362-4440 or at firstname.lastname@example.org