Limbo of the Lost

| April 11, 2005

What to Do When Cards Go Missing
Be pro-active. Make a list of phone numbers and Internet addresses for the banks and credit companies you use, for the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state where your CDL is issued and, if necessary, for the nearest local Social Security Administration office. All of these organizations have procedures in place for identity-theft response. Notify them immediately – as soon as you’re aware your wallet is irretrievable – and tell them it’s either lost or stolen. They will freeze your accounts and flag your driving record.

If you know your wallet has been stolen or has fallen into the wrong hands, and the thief has had time to start using your identity, notify your bank(s), creditor(s), the DMV in your home state and the SSA if necessary. Then:

  1. Steel yourself. Know that solving this problem might be difficult and time consuming. Be patient and polite, but persistent. Organize all paperwork. Keep names and phone numbers of everyone you talk to.

  2. File a thoroughly detailed police report. Make readable copies of it for creditors and other agencies requiring proof of the crime. Give them the investigating officer’s phone number, too. Use only certified, return-receipt mail.
  3. Inform at least one of the three major credit bureaus you either are (if you know for sure) or might be an identity-theft victim. Equifax (www.equifax.com or 800-685-1111), Experian (www.experian.com or 888-397-3742) or TransUnion (www.transunion.com or 800-888-4213) are required to share this information with each other.
  4. Get your case number from the bureau you notified. Ask for a credit report. Monitor it carefully, watching for suspicious activity.
  5. Tell the bureau to issue a “fraud alert.” For 90 days, this requires all businesses that lend money or give credit to investigate anyone who opens an account in your name. Thieves know this and will wait for the 90-day period to end, so tell the bureau you also want to file a long-term fraud alert. This lasts seven years; only you can cancel it, and you can do that at any time.
  6. If the thief opens fraudulent accounts in your name, ask the bureau for names and phone numbers of the lenders. Tell the bureau to remove from your credit report all inquiries resulting from fraudulent activity. Even one such inquiry could damage your credit rating.
  7. Also, tell the bureau you wish to dispute all fraud-related entries on your report. Tell the bureau to notify anyone who received your report since the fraudulent activity began that you are disputing these entries. Make sure the credit bureau alerts any employer that has asked for your report.
  8. Find out if your state has a “credit freeze” law. (California has one. Vermont, Louisiana and Texas will this year, and at least 12 other states have introduced such laws.)
  9. Fill out fraud affidavits for creditors. Most of them accept a form provided by the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/ affidavit.pdf.
  10. Inform your local post office you either are or might be an identity theft victim. Watch for strange bills and especially change-of-address notifications in the mail.
  11. If debt collectors call, get the company and the collector’s name, phone number and address. Tell them on the phone and in writing you are an identity theft victim. Send a copy of the FTC form and of the police report with the letter.
  12. Watch out for other scam artists who offer to “help” you deal with the identity theft.
  13. Enlist the help of caring experts: Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org; Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, www.privacyrights.org; Consumers Union, www.consumersunion.org; National Consumer Protection Week, www.consumer.gov/ncpw.

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