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Victims of identity theft are often faced with costly and time-consuming efforts to remedy the effects of identity theft and clear their name. Federal legislation exists to help victims of identity theft and, as well as many state laws, which vary by state.
In the fall of 1998, for example, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This legislation created a new offense of identity theft, which prohibits knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law (18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7)). This offense, in most circumstances, carries a maximum term of 15 years' imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.
Acts committed in connection with identity theft or fraud may also involve violations of other statutes such as identification fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1028), credit card fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1029), computer fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030), mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), or financial institution fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344). These federal offenses are felonies that carry substantial penalties in some cases, as high as 30 years' imprisonment, fines, and criminal forfeiture.
Some staps that may be taken to protect yourself from identity theft include:
1. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report or, at the very least, the number of the report, to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime. Provide as much documented evidence as possible and make sure the police report lists the fraudulent accounts. Make a note of the phone number of your investigator so you’ll be able to give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.
2. File an identity theft complaint with the FTC. The FTC is a clearinghouse for identity theft information. They maintain a database of identity theft cases that they share with law enforcement agencies for investigations. The FTC can also refer complaints to other government agencies and companies to locate identity thieves. You may call the FTC identity theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338, use its online identity theft complaint form, www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or write: FTC Identity Theft Clearinghouse, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20580.
3. Create new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords for any new accounts you open. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
4. If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or on fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the instructions to dispute those transactions. You should immediately close any accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit, available on the USLegalForms.com site at http://www.uslegalforms.com/identity-theft-forms.htm, when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
5. Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to determine if another license has been issued in your name. Ask the DMV what procedures exist to prevent misuse of your identification. Some states offer a fraud alert will prevent another person from getting a license or identification card in your name. You will need to provide identification and copies of the police report, bills and other documents as evidence of your fraud claim. You may need to change your driver’s license number if yours is being used as identification on bad checks or for other fraudulent reasons. Request that your social security number be removed from appearing on your license or that a substitute identification be used as your driver’s license number.
Under new provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA, §605A) you can place an initial fraud alert for only 90 days. You may ask that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect you have been, or are about to be, a victim of identity theft. After placing the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to one free credit report within twelve months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. You may also request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.
You can have an extended alert placed on your credit report if you've been a victim of identity theft and you provide the consumer reporting company with an "identity theft report." FTC regulations define an "identity theft report" to include a report made to a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. If your local police department refuses to file a report and your situation involves fraudulent use of the U.S. mail, you can obtain an identity theft report from the U.S. Postal Inspector.
If your credit report shows that the imposter has opened new accounts in your name, contact those creditors immediately by telephone and in writing. Report fraudulent accounts and erroneous information in writing to both the credit bureaus and the credit issuers by following the instructions provided with the credit reports. After you notify the credit bureaus about fraudulent accounts, the bureau is required to block that information from future reports. USLegalForms.com provides a sample letter at http://www.uslegalforms.com/identity-theft-forms.htm to send to the credit bureaus requesting that fraudulent accounts be blocked. The consumer reporting company has four business days to block the fraudulent information after accepting your identity theft report. It also must tell the information provider that it has blocked the information. The consumer reporting company may refuse to block the information or remove the block in some cases, such as false claims of identity theft. The consumer reporting company must inform you if it removes the block or refuses to place the block.
The bureau must also notify the person or entity who extended credit about the fraudulent account (FCRA, §605B). If the credit report doesn’t include the names and phone numbers of those with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened, request this information from the credit reporting bureau. Ask the credit grantors in writing to furnish you and your investigating law enforcement agency with copies of the documentation, such as the fraudulent application and transaction records. Federal law (FCRA § 609(e)) and some state laws give you the right to obtain these documents. The business must provide copies of these records to the victim within 30 days of the victim's request at no charge. The law also allows the victim to authorize a law enforcement investigator to get access to these records.
After the matter involving the fraudulent account is resolved with the creditor, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed account and has discharged the debts. Keep this letter in your files.
In addition, instruct the credit bureaus in writing to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months (two years for employers) to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information.