I received a call this week in my Reston, Virginia office from a person who thought they may have been the victim of identity theft. Ordinarily, this is not an uncommon event, but this situation was different because it was my wife. I can tell you that it was a little unnerving to hear her tell me about the potential problem, and I have a new found empathy for people who may have been identity theft victims.
In my opinion, the first move at even the hint of a potential identity theft is to place fraud alerts on your credit files to alert potential credit grantors that you may be a victim. With a fraud alert on your credit report, you should stop or slow down the identity thief from opening up any new credit accounts. The system is supposed to work in a manner that allows you to contact either Equifax, Trans Union, or Experian. Once you contact the credit reporting agency and request a fraud alert, the first credit reporting agency is supposed to notify the other two credit reporting agencies. At the time of this posting, the phone numbers to place a fraud alert on your credit file are:
Equifax fraud alert phone number: 1-800-525-6285
Experian fraud alert phone number: 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union fraud alert phone number: 1-800-680-7289
Next, I recommend that you obtain copies of your credit files from the credit reporting agencies. After obtaining a copy of your credit file, check the open accounts to make sure that you initiated all of the accounts that appear on your credit report. You should also check the inquiries to see if there are any credit inquiries that you did not initiate or do not recognize. If you don’t see any new or unknown credit accounts or inquiries that you did not initiate, you might not have an identity theft problem. I would recommend periodic monitoring of your credit files to make sure that no unauthorized accounts or inquiries appear on your credit report.
If you review your credit report and find accounts that you did not open or initiate, then you have moved from a potential identity theft victim to an actual identity theft victim. At this point, you will want to go into full identity theft defense mode, which will be the topic of another blog post.
I would also recommend monitoring your existing accounts. Call your credit card company to make sure there are no charges that you did not make. Check to make sure no one has claimed to be a new authorized user of an existing account, changed the address on the account, or requested a new credit card for the account. Check with you banking institution to make sure there have been no changes to any deposit accounts.
For more information from the Federal Trade Commission, I recommend: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/detect.html. As always, if you have any individual questions, I recommend that you contact a lawyer that specializes in credit report litigation in your area. For Virginia consumers, I can be reached at 571-313-0412.