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Identity Theft:
What to Do if It Happens to You

When someone else uses your name, Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number or other personal identifying information to commit fraud, it is called “identity theft.” The imposter may open credit accounts, get a driver’s license or apply for insurance benefits in your name, and create havoc with your personal finances. While identity theft is a crime that can be prosecuted, the thief is often difficult to track. It is important to act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage to your credit history. This guide provides victims a step-by-step process to addressing the problems caused by identity theft and in instructions on how to contact the major resources.

In dealing with the authorities and financial institutions, it is very important to keep a log of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note time spent and any expenses incurred, in case you are able to request restitution in a later judgment or conviction against the thief. Confirm conversations in writing. Send all correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all letters and documents.


1. Credit bureaus. Immediately place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports. Call any one of the three major credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, numbers below). The company you call is required to contact the other two so that they can put a fraud alert on their file too. Ask to add a victim's statement to your report, such as: “My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at [your telephone number] to verify all applications.”

Each credit bureau will mail you a free credit report once your file has been flagged with a fraud alert. Fraud alerts are placed for at least 90 days. You will want to extend the time period to seven years. Do so in writing following the directions sent in the credit report you receive. A victim of identity theft with a police report can also ask for an extended 7-year fraud alert.

Be aware that these measures may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the imposter. You should request a copy of your credit report every few months for a while to monitor for fraud. If you requested the extended seven-year fraud alert on your credit report, you are entitled to two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three credit reporting companies.

Ask the credit bureaus about their procedures for investigating and removing erroneous information from your report. Ask them for the phone numbers and addresses of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. If a credit bureau removes erroneous information in your report, ask it to send an updated report to anyone who received your report in the last year (two years for employers).

Equifax: Report fraud: (888) 766-0008. Order copy of report: (800) 685-1111. Website: www.equifax.com

Experian: Report fraud: (888) 397-3742. Order copy of report: (888) 397-3742 . Website: www.experian.com

TransUnion: Report fraud: (800) 680-7289. Order copy of report: (877) 322-8228. Website: www.transunion.com

If the credit bureaus are not responsive to your requests, contact the State of Maryland Division of Financial Regulation at (410) 330-6830.

2. Law enforcement. Report the fraudulent activity to your local police or sheriff’s department. Under Maryland law, local police have state-wide jurisdiction over identity theft crimes. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Make sure the police report lists the fraud accounts. Get a copy of the report. Keep the phone number of the fraud investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. Some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports on such crimes. Be persistent!

3. Credit Freezes. In addition to placing a fraud alert of your credit report, the Credit Reporting Agencies also provide a “Credit Freeze”. The Freeze completely blocks the information on your credit report from would-be creditors. Placing a credit freeze means that your file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A credit freeze can help prevent identity theft. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without first checking a consumer's credit history. If your credit files are frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number would probably not be able to get credit in your name. Effective in January 2008, a new law in Maryland takes effect requiring the agencies not charge more than $5 per credit freeze.

To place a freeze on your credit report, you will need to send a letter by certified mail to each of the three credit reporting agencies listed in part 1 above. Each of the credit reporting agencies requires slightly different information, make sure to check their website to see exactly what is required; www.transunion.com, www.equifax.com, and www.experian.com. Generally, you will need to include your name, addresses from the past 5 years, social security number, date of birth, a utility bill showing you at your current address, and the $5.00 fee payable by check, money order or credit card. Credit freezes are free to identity theft victims, send a copy of your police report with the letter requesting the freeze.

Send your freeze requests via certified mail to:

  • Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.
  • Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
  • TransUnion, Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834.

4. Identity Theft Passports. One of the tools the Consumer Protection Division can offer you is an Identity Theft Passport. The Passport may help you resolve financial issues caused by identity theft, and to help prevent a wrongful arrest if a thief uses your personal identifying information during the commission of a crime. Once you have obtained a police report from your local law enforcement agency, you can apply for a Passport through th local police or directly through the Consumer Protection Division’s website, www.oag.state.md.us and click on “Protecting Consumers” at the top of the page. Contact the Identity Theft Unit at IDTheft@oag.state.md.us.


5. Creditors. New Accounts: Immediately contact all creditors with whom your name has been used fraudulently, by phone and in writing. You may see evidence of these accounts on your credit reports. Creditors will likely ask you to fill out a fraud affidavit. The Federal Trade Commission provides a uniform affidavit form that most creditors accept (on its website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft). Ask the credit grantors to furnish you and your local law enforcement agency copies of documents such as the thief’s applications for credit and the transaction records of the fraudulent transactions.
Existing Accounts. If your existing credit accounts have been used fraudulently, get replacement credit cards with new account numbers. Monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. Report it immediately to credit grantors. Add passwords to all accounts.

6. Debt Collectors. If debt collectors demand that you pay the unpaid bills on fraudulent credit accounts, ask for the name of the collection company, the name of the person contacting you, phone number and address. Tell the collector that you are the victim of fraud and are not responsible for the account. Ask the collector for the name and contact information for the referring credit issuer, the amount of the debt, account number, and dates of the charges. Under federal law, you are entitled to receive all information about the debt that you would be entitled to see if the debt were actually yours. The collector must inform the creditor that you are a victim of identity theft. Once a creditor is notified that a debt is the work of an identity thief, it cannot sell that debt or place it for collection. Ask the collector if they need you to complete their fraud affidavit form or if you can use the Federal Trade Commission form. Follow up in writing to the debt collector explaining your situation. Ask that they confirm in writing that you do not owe the debt and that the account has been closed.

7. Stolen checks and fraudulent bank accounts. If a thief has stolen checks or written counterfeit checks on your account, notify your bank. The bank should provide you with a fraud affidavit. Stop payment on the checks, close your checking and saving accounts and open new ones with new account numbers. Set a password for the new accounts. Ask the bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business so that retailers will be alerted not to accept those checks.

If someone has opened an account using your information, notify that bank. Also contact Chex Systems, Inc., (1-800-428-9623; www.chexhelp.com) which compiles consumer reports about checking accounts, to request a free copy of your report. Follow its procedures to dispute inaccurate information in your report and to put a fraud alert on your account.

If a store rejects one of your own checks, contact the check verification service the store uses. Major check verification companies are:

  • SCAN: (800) 262-7771
  • TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898
  • CheckRite: (800) 766-2748

8. ATM cards. If your ATM or debit card has been stolen or compromised, report it to your bank immediately and request a fraud affidavit. Get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old password. Monitor your account statement. You may be liable if fraud is not reported quickly.

9. Fraudulent change of address.
Notify the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (in Maryland, call 1-877-876-2455) if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier.

10. Social Security Number (SSN) misuse. The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General investigates cases that involve the use of your SSN to fraudulently obtain Social Security benefits. Report this fraud to: 1-800-269-0271.

11. Phone service. If a thief has established phone service in your name or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, contact the service provider immediately to cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password that must be used any time the account is changed.

12. Driver’s license number misuse. You may be able to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration at 1-800-950-1682 to see if you qualify to be issued a new number. You can also find out if a replacement license has been issued in your name and ask to have a fraud alert put on your license.

13. Victim statements. If the imposter is apprehended by law enforcement and stands trial, write a victim impact letter to the judge handling the case. Contact the victim/witness assistance program of your local State’s Attorney’s Office for further information on how to make your voice heard in the legal proceedings.

14. False bankruptcies
. If someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A list of the U.S. Trustee Program’s Regional Offices is available on the U.S. Department of Justice Web site at www.usdoj.gov/ust. You may need to hire a lawyer to help convince the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent.

15. Criminal records. Sometimes victims of identity theft learn that imposters using their name were arrested or had arrest warrants issued against them. If criminal violations are wrongfully attributed to your name, contact the police department that arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. Explain that this is a case of misidentification and that someone is using your personal information. You may need to file an impersonation report to confirm your identity. If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the appropriate police department. In addition to correcting your record in criminal justice databases, you’ll also want to clear your name in court records. Contact the State’s Attorney’s office in the county where the case was prosecuted.
Clearing your name of wrongful criminal records can be challenging. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (www.privacyrights.org or 619-298-3396) has a helpful fact sheet, “Criminal Identity Theft.” You may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name. Contact your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.

16. Legal help. You may want to consult an attorney to determine legal action to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. Call the local Bar Association, a Legal Aid office in your area (for low-income households), or the National Association of Consumer Advocates (www.naca.net) to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act.

17. Don’t give in. Do not pay any bill or portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft. Do not cover any checks which were written and/or cashed fraudulently. Do not file for bankruptcy. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don't allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills. Report such attempts to government regulators.

Other Useful Resources
Federal Trade Commission. Offers a universal fraud affidavit and an in-depth guide for recovering from identity theft. Victims can also file a complaint with the FTC that may help law enforcement investigate and prosecute identity thieves.
www.ftc.gov/idtheft
1877-ID-THEFT (438-4338)

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Offers information on identity theft and privacy issues.
www.privacyrights.org
(619) 298-3396

This publication originates from the California Public Interest Research Group and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. With permission, it has been adapted for Maryland consumers.

In Maryland, it is a crime to obtain a person’s identifying information or assume another person’s identity in order to obtain any benefit or thing of value, to avoid the payment of a debt, or to avoid prosecution for a crime. A person convicted of this crime is subject to a fine up to $25,000 or up to five years in prison or both. The court may also order the person to make restitution to the victim for reasonable costs incurred, including attorney’s fees for clearing the victim’s credit history or as the result of any civil proceeding that arose because of the crime.

Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202
Toll-free: 1-888-743-0023
Consumer complaint hotline: (410) 528-8662
Identity Theft Unit: idtheft@oag.state.md.us

Revised 12/07

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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