FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

You may have questions as you forge through the "identity-theft jungle." Although I want to provide as much help to victims as possible, it is unrealistic to answer all the questions that we receive by e-mail. In the book From Victim to Victor, you will find many answers to your questions. Also The Identity Theft Survival Kit contains many pages of resources as well as a list of attorneys who deal with the issues of identity fraud. You may need to get a consultation with an attorney to get specific answers about your case. However, if you have general questions about your identity theft problem that is not urgent, you may contact me by e-mail. I cannot answer all questions; however, I will provide weekly updates to answer general Frequently Asked Questions on this page.

What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft or identity fraud (true name fraud) is the taking of the victim’s identity to obtain credit, credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from the victim’s existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy or obtain a job using the victim’s name. The Impersonator steals thousands of dollars in the victim’s name without the victim even knowing about it for months or even years. Recently criminals have been using the victim’s identity to commit crimes ranging form traffic infractions to felonies.

How does the imposter take your identity?
It is easy. All that is needed is your social security number, your birth date and other identifying information such as your address and phone number and whatever else they can find out about you. With this information, and a false driver’s license with their own picture, they can begin the crime. They apply in person for instant credit, or through the mail by posing as you. They often provide an address of their own, claiming to have moved. Negligent credit grantors in their rush to issue credit do not verify information or addresses. So once the imposter opens the first account, they use this new account along with the other identifiers to add to their credibility. This facilitates the proliferation of the fraud. Now the thief is well on his/her way to getting rich and ruining your credit and good name.

Where does the impersonator get information about you?
Lots of places- your doctor, accountant, lawyer, dentist, school, place of work, health insurance carrier, and many others have your identifying information. If some criminally minded person is working at the office (or just visiting) decides to use this information to assume your identity, you would not know it. Also if this information is not disposed of with a shredder, a "dumpster-diver" could pick up the information and begin the crime against you. You do not need to lose your wallet or have anything tangible stolen from you for someone to take your identity. If you do not shred your confidential information, utility bills, credit card slips and other documents, it is easy to "dumpster dive" your garbage. Much of your information is readily available on the internet, at courts, and accessible from public documents. Additionally, if someone obtains your credit report illegally, they have all the information necessary to become you.

How can you stop the fraud?
As soon as you are made aware of the fraud (usually a creditor will contact you or you will be denied credit, or you will see charges that are not yours on bills) you must immediately contact the three major credit reporting agencies by phone and letter to put a fraud alert on your credit profile. Get copies of the reports so that you will know which are the fraud accounts, and call the police in the county where the fraud occurs. You may not be able to stop the fraud immediately. It is very complex. But this will get you started. You will get step by step instructions when you order the coaching guide, The Identity Theft Survival Kit to find out what you need to do.  You'll obtain copies of attorney-written sample letters to write to all the necessary agencies. The computer diskette has fill-in the blanks form letters to save you hours of retyping. Once you have learned all the facts of your case, write a 100-word statement explaining the situation and have that paragraph added to your credit profile.

What if the police won’t take a report?
Many police departments are reluctant to write a report on this type of crime. First of all, they may tell you that you are not the victim, because the credit grantor, who lost the money, is the victim. They often want the report to come from the creditor who many times will not cooperate because it is not cost effective for them to spend the time and energy to assist the police. They may have already lost thousands of dollars. This fraud loss (to them!) is viewed as a cost of doing business. It is not fair to you as the victim, and things have to change, but that is the situation in many places.

Even if the creditor won’t prosecute, you must insist that the police take a report. Speak to the head of the fraud unit, (or white-collar crime unit) of the police department in the county(s) or cities where the fraud accounts were opened. (If accounts were opened all over the nation, you may be able to get the secret service involved) You will need a report to clean up the credit mess.

If you still have trouble, call and write to the Chief of Police (see the letter in the Identity Theft Survival Kit). You may need to call the Mayor of the City Council. If you get stuck, contact The California Public Interest Research Group (PIRG,) or The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse or call an attorney for assistance.

Should you change your social security number if you are a victim of identity-theft?
In most cases this is a bad idea. You have had that number for many years and it is attached to many documents, including your credit report and various other private and governmental documents. If you must change your social security number (this will be an incredible hassle with the Social Security Administration), your credit reports with your old social security number will be attached to the reports with the new number. This will look very suspicious to creditors and employers, and cause further problems in proving yourself to be the victim instead of the imposter.

Should you cancel all your credit cards even if they have not been invaded by the imposter-just to be safe?
No. Since your credit worthiness is shaky due to the fraud, you will probably have a hard time getting new credit in the near future. If you have stopped your credit, you may have trouble getting loans, a rental car, or even a job. Instead, for those accounts that have not be touched by the impersonator, immediately notify each credit grantor of your true accounts, that you are a victim of identity fraud. Set up a new password Put a fraud alert on these accounts and tell the bank that they are not to change your address without verification from you in writing from your present address. Do not use a password with your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or any of your present identifiers-not even your pet’s name. Make up a strange name and use the same one for all accounts so you do not get confused.

What if the information in my credit report is wrong?
You can dispute inaccurate information with the CRA. If you tell a CRA that your file contains inaccurate information, the CRA must investigate the items (usually within 30 days) by presenting to its information source all relevant evidence you submit, unless your dispute is frivolous. The source (e.g., bank) must review your evidence and report its findings to the CRA. (The source also must advise national CRAs -- to which it has provided the data -- of any error.) The CRA must give you a written report of the investigation, and a copy of your report if the investigation results in any change. If the CRA's investigation does not resolve the dispute, you may add a 100-word statement to your file. The CRA must normally include a summary of your statement in future reports. If an item is deleted or a dispute statement is filed, you may ask that anyone who has recently received your report be notified of the change.

You can dispute inaccurate items with the source of the information. If you tell anyone – such as a creditor who reports to a CRA -- that you dispute an item, they may not then report the information to a CRA without including a notice of your dispute. In addition, once you've notified the source of the error in writing, it may not continue to report the information if it is, in fact, an error.

Send your questions to mari@marifrank.com


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