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
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.
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
and addresses of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have
been opened. If a credit bureau removes erroneous information in your
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.
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!
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
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:
Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.
Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA
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.
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:
ATM cards. If your ATM or debit card has been stolen or compromised,
report it to your bank immediately and request a
Get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old
password. Monitor your account statement. You may be liable if fraud
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
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
Office of the Inspector General investigates cases that involve
the use of your SSN to fraudulently obtain Social Security
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,
provider immediately to cancel the account and open a new
one. Provide a password that must be used any time the account
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
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
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
14. False bankruptcies. If someone has filed for bankruptcy
in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the region where
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
against them. If criminal violations are wrongfully attributed
to your name, contact the police department that arrested
your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant
for the arrest. Explain that this is a case of misidentification
someone is using your personal information. You may need
report to confirm your identity. If the arrest warrant is
from a state or county other than where you live, ask your
to send the impersonation report to the appropriate police
department. In addition to correcting your record in criminal
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
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
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
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Offers information on identity theft and
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
Consumer complaint hotline: (410) 528-8662
Identity Theft Unit: email@example.com