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What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime.  It occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.  Identity thieves use your personal information for a variety of reasons such as to make credit card purchases, rent an apartment, or establish other accounts in your name! 

Often, victims may not even know someone else has been using their identity until it’s too late – they receive calls from a debt collector, or notice unauthorized accounts on their credit report.  The consequences can be devastating including being turned down for a needed loan because of negative credit.  If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, contact law enforcement, your local attorney general or the FTC for more information.  An attorney may be able to assist you with repairing any damage to your personal history. 

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, it may be all too easy for skilled identity thieves to get hold of your personal information such as your Social Security number, credit card account numbers, or other personal financial information.  The FTC cites the following most commons ways identity theives steal your identity: 

1.  Dumpster Diving. Thieves rummage through trash looking for bills or other papers with your personal information on it.

2.  Skimming. Thieves steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special electronic storage device that tracks your information when your card is processed.

3.  Phishing. Thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to try to trick you into revealing your personal information.

4.  Changing Your Address. Thieves have been known to actually fill out a change-of-address form with your information in order to divert your billing statements to other locations.

5.  Old-Fashioned Stealing. Thieves steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They also steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.

6.  Pretexting.  Thieves use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

If you have been a victim of any of the above tactics, or are concerned about identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint and inform all of your financial institutions.  Contact an attorney to discuss what legal options may be available to assist you in repairing any damage done. 

What Should I Do If My Identity Has Been Stolen?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends immediately filing a police report, checking your credit reports, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions if you think you have been the victim of identity theft.  Keep a record with the details of your conversations with creditors and government agencies about the situation and copies of all correspondence.  You can place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacint any of the three consumer reporting agencies:  Equifax, TransUnion,  or Experian.

How Do I File A Complaint With The FTC About Identity Theft?

The FTC makes it easy to file a complaint if your identity has been stolen.  You can either use their online complaint form or you can file the compalint by phone using the  FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.  You can also submit your complaint in writing to the following address: 

Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW, Washington, DC 20580. 

How Do I Place A Fraud Alert On My Credit Report?

If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, placing a fraud alert on your credit report can help prevent the theives from opening any more accounts in your name.  Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. If you do not receive a confirmation from a company, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Speak to an Experienced Identity Theft Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified identity theft lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local identity theft attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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