Action Steps for Identity Theft Victims

Published, January 1, 2009

Privacy TipDuring the past year, the Department of the Navy has experienced a few documented cases of identity theft linked to the loss of government privacy information. The December 2008 Privacy Tip focused on how thieves steal identities, what they do with the personal information they obtain, and general information about identity theft. This Privacy Tip is reproduced from Department of Justice guidance found on its website. It provides information about how to prevent identity theft, as well as what to do if you become a victim of identity theft.

What Can I Do About Identity Theft And Fraud?

To victims of identity theft and fraud, the task of correcting incorrect information about their financial or personal status, and trying to restore their good names and reputations, may seem as daunting as trying to solve a puzzle in which some of the pieces are missing and other pieces no longer fit as they once did. Unfortunately, the damage that criminals do in stealing another person's identity and using it to commit fraud often takes far longer to undo than it took the criminal to commit the crimes.

What Should I Do To Avoid Becoming A Victim Of Identity Theft?

To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic steps to take.

Be stingy about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them, regardless of where you are:

At Home

Start by adopting a "need to know" approach to your personal data. Your credit card company may need to know your mother's maiden name, so that it can verify your identity when you call to inquire about your account. A person who calls you and says he's from your bank, however, does not need to know that information if it is already on file with your bank. The only purpose of such a call is to acquire that information for that person's personal benefit. Also, the more information that you have printed on your personal bank checks, such as your Social Security number or home telephone number, the more personal data you are routinely handing out to people who may not need that information.

If someone you don't know calls you on the telephone and offers you the chance to receive a "major" credit card, a prize or other valuable item, but asks you for personal data, such as your Social Security number, credit card number or expiration date, or mother's maiden name, ask them to send you a written application form. If they will not do it, tell them you are not interested and hang up. If they will, review the application carefully when you receive it and make sure it's going to a company or financial institution that's well-known and reputable. The Better Business Bureau can give you information about businesses that have been the subject of complaints.

On Travel

If you are traveling, have your mail held at your local post office or ask someone you know well and trust, such as another family member, a friend or a neighbor, to collect and hold your mail while you are away.

If you have to telephone someone while you're traveling and need to pass on personal financial information to the person you are calling, do not do it in the open where passersby can listen in on what you are saying. Wait until you are at a less public location to call.

Check your financial information regularly, and look for what should be there and what should not:

What Should Be There?

If you have bank or credit card accounts, you should be receiving monthly statements that list transactions for the most recent month or reporting period.

If you are not receiving monthly statements for the accounts you know you have, call the financial institution or credit card company immediately and ask about it.

If you are told that your statements are being mailed to another address that you have not authorized, tell the financial institution or credit card representative immediately that you did not authorize the change of address and that someone may be improperly using your accounts. In that situation, you should also ask for copies of all statements and debit or charge transactions that have occurred since the last statement you received. Obtaining those copies will help you to work with the financial institution or credit card company in determining whether some or all of those debit or charge transactions were fraudulent.

What Shouldn't Be There?

If someone has gotten your financial data and made unauthorized debits or charges against your financial accounts, checking your monthly statements carefully may be the quickest way for you to find out. Too many of us give those statements, or the enclosed checks or credit transactions, only a quick glance, and do not review them closely to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals or charges.

If someone has managed to get access to your mail or other personal data, and opened any credit cards in your name or taken any funds from your bank account, contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately to report those transactions and to request further action.

Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report. It should list all bank and financial accounts under your name and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name.

Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts. Even though financial institutions are required to maintain copies of your checks, debit transactions and similar transactions for five years, you should retain your monthly statements and checks for at least one year, if not more. If you need to dispute a particular check or transaction -- especially if they purport to bear your signatures -- your original records will be more immediately accessible and useful to the institutions that you have contacted. Even if you take all of these steps, however, it is still possible that you can become a victim of identity theft. Records containing your personal data, such as credit-card receipts or car-rental agreements, may be found by or shared with someone who decides to use your data for fraudulent purposes.

What Should I Do If I've Become A Victim Of Identity Theft?

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the situation:, 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338) or TDD at 202-326-2502, or by mail to Consumer Response Center, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.

Under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, the FTC is responsible for receiving and processing complaints from people who believe they may be victims of identity theft, providing informational materials to those people, and referring those complaints to appropriate entities, including the major credit reporting agencies and law enforcement agencies. For further information, check the FTC's identity theft web pages. You may also call your local FBI office or the U.S. Secret Service to report crimes relating to identity theft and fraud.

You may also need to contact other agencies for other types of identity theft:

  • Your local office of the Postal Inspection Service if you suspect that an identity thief has submitted a change-of-address form with the Post Office to redirect your mail or has used the mail to commit frauds involving your identity.
  • The Social Security Administration if you suspect that your Social Security number is being fraudulently used (call 800-269-0271 to report the fraud).
  • The Internal Revenue Service if you suspect the improper use of identification information in connection with tax violations. Call 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations.
Call the fraud units of the three principal credit reporting companies:
  • Equifax: To report fraud, call 1-800-525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374-0250. To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, or call 1-800-685-1111. To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit, call 1-888-567-8688 or write to Equifax Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta GA 30374-0123.
  • Experian (formerly TRW): To report fraud, call 1-888-EXPERIAN or 1-888-397-3742, fax to 1-800-301-7196, or write to P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013. To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states) write to P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013 or call 1-888-EXPERIAN. To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call 1-800-353-0809 or 1-888-5OPTOUT or write to P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013.
  • Trans Union: To report fraud, call 1-800-680-7289 or write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634. To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064 or call 1-800-888-4213. To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call 1-800-680-7293 or 1-888- 5OPTOUT or write to P.O Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39238.
Contact all creditors with whom your name or identifying data have been fraudulently used. For example, you may need to contact your long-distance telephone company if your long-distance calling card has been stolen or you find fraudulent charges on your bill.

Contact all financial institutions where you have accounts that an identity thief has taken over or that have been created in your name but without your knowledge. You may need to cancel those accounts, place stop-payment orders on any outstanding checks that may not have cleared, and change your Automated Teller Machine card, account and Personal Identification Number.

Contact the major check verification companies (listed in the CalPIRG-Privacy Rights Clearinghouse checklist) if you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up by an identity thief. If you know that a particular merchant has received a check stolen from you, contact the verification company that the merchant uses:
  • CheckRite: 1-800-766-2748
  • ChexSystems: 1-800-428-9623 (closed checking accounts)
  • CrossCheck: 1-800-552-1900
  • Equifax: 1-800-437-5120
  • National Processing Co. (NPC): 1-800-526-5380
  • SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
  • TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898
Where Can I Find Out More About Identity Theft And Fraud?

For questions regarding identity theft and privacy, contact Steve Muck, DON CIO Privacy Team Lead.

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