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What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identify Theft

Feb 28, 2008
You were living a comfortable life. All your monthly bills were paid on time. You just bought a second home on the water. Then it hit. Your most recent credit card bill contained thousands of dollars of charges you don't remember making. You ask your wife, "Did you buy a new HDTV last month to surprise me?" No, it wasn't your wife, it was a criminal who hijacked your credit. You were just the latest victim of identify theft.

In almost half of the cases of identity theft, consumers are the ones who detect the breach. In nearly 40% of cases the criminal was someone who was in close contact with the victim; a friend, relative, neighbor, coworker, in-home employee, waiter/waitress or financial institution employee. In the end, nearly one third of all identity theft cases come from a stolen wallet or purse, checkbook or credit card. The thief might have gotten your personal financial information by stealing your mail or by dumpster diving. Now, you have to clean up this mess.

First, don't panic. Your emotional response will be similar to that of victims of violent crime. Your heart will be racing, you'll feel violated, but just remember--you are not liable for these bogus charges.

Immediately call the financial institution whose bill contained the bad charges. In most cases you need to notify the company (the bank or credit card issuer) with 30 days to be legally protected. Tell them that you believe you are a victim of identity theft, and want the fraudulent charges removed from your bill. You may have to close the account and open a new one to ensure the bad charges stop.

Stay organized. It is crucial that you keep a log of all your phone calls, including who you spoke to and what they said. Keep a file with all the written correspondence you send, and the responses you receive. All mail should be sent "certified, return receipt requested" so you can verify it got there. All this information will serve to strengthen your case.

Ask your financial institution to add a password to your account. That will keep the next ID thief from changing the billing address on your account (only you will know the password). Whenever possible, speak with the fraud investigation department, and not just customer service or bank managers. The fraud department will be investigating your case, and they should hear your story firsthand.

If the thief has used your checks, report the crime to the police, and get a copy of their report to forward to your bank and the merchant who cashed the fraudulent check.

From this point on, continue to monitor all your financial accounts. Go through each of your monthly statements with a fine tooth comb, looking for any charges that might be fraudulent. Request copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. Look for any negative information that may have been added to your report as a result of the ID theft. It is your right to request that incorrect information be removed from your credit report. You certainly don't want the actions of some criminal to impact your credit score!

It will take time to fix all the problems caused by the identity theft. The average time spent cleaning up the mess is 40 hours. That doesn't mean you can do it in a week; those hours may well be spread or a period of months before your financial affairs are back to normal.
About the Author
To learn the inside secrets to fixing your credit fast, visit the author's website: Fix Your Credit With The Credit Secrets Bible
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