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As identity theft crimes escalate, new monitoring service companies are opening their doors for business to lend assistance for victims of identity theft and offer protective services to guard against it.
Typically you can choose from a menu of service options ranging from regular credit report checks for fraudulent activity to a full range of monitoring that includes ongoing public records search for applications made in your name, and surveillance of fraudulent activity occurring on the Internet's financial “black markets” where personal information is bought and sold.
Additionally, most of these services have full-time support specialists who act as advisors and advocates for victims, providing identity theft assistance in reporting and documentation procedures. This support lends welcomed relief for victims at a time when help and advice is most needed.
Before choosing a monitoring service, review information about each one to ensure that what you pay is worth what you get in return. For many, the choice to use a monitoring is one of convenience. Self-monitoring takes time and doing it consistently is key to spotting discrepancies early before they snowball into a massive problem that is difficult to untangle, leaving your credit report in shambles while trying to sort it out. For others, self-monitoring is preferred, providing a sense of control while keeping your personal information out of one more database that is potentially vulnerable as an identity theft target.
Whether you prefer to personally maintain control of monitoring activity, or find relief in relying on an independent service to do it for you, remember that diligence is essential for minimizing damages and maintaining a fraudulent-free credit history.
Fraudulent information that shows up on your credit report can prevent you from getting credit cards, a home mortgage, and even contribute to you losing out on a job. Victims of identity theft who act quickly to file a report gain valuable leverage to stop the fraudulent information from being recorded into your credit history.
Send a copy of an identity theft report and letter outlining specific fraudulent information to the consumer reporting companies. Use a return receipt request so you have a record of your information being delivered and received. Once you submit this information, they will provide assistance by blocking fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report. When your identity theft report is accepted, the consumer reporting agency has four business days to block the fraudulent information.
If a consumer reporting company informs an information provider that it has blocked fraudulent information in your credit report, the information provider may not continue to report that information. It also cannot hire a debt collector related to the fraudulent account or sell the debt to any other entity that would try to collect it.
Include in your letter: a copy of the credit report with fraudulent charges circled and referenced, and a copy of the law enforcement report filed regarding the identity theft. Identify theft claims should clearly state that you are a victim and that you are requesting the itemized list of charges to be blocked on your credit report.
For more information about blocking requests, along with a sample letter, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov.
In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) introduced the ID Theft Affidavit designed to provide identity theft assistance to victims for restoring their good credit histories. The ID Theft Affidavit was developed in cooperation with banks, credit grantors, and consumer advocates to simplify the reporting process by eliminating the need to use a separate reporting form for each fraudulent account opened.
Quick action to report identity theft is essential. It not only stops fraudulent charges from being attributed to your name, it helps protect merchants who become the co-victims of identity theft since they are the ones who are responsible to dismiss your charges without further compensation for their losses. The ID Theft Affidavit streamlines the documentation process and is an acceptable reporting document by most retailers, credit issuers, banks, and other financial institutions.
A copy of the ID Theft Affidavit is available online or you can call 1-877-ID-THEFT.
If you are a victim of identity theft:
Check fraud is a common form of identity theft. You can be a victim of check fraud by someone you know, or as the subject to random theft if you carry your checkbook with you. Victims of identity theft who have checks stolen should request an immediate stop payment on all outstanding check numbers, close the account, and open a new account. They should also ask the bank to notify the check verification service used to refuse checks drawn on the closed account, which is typically Chex Systems, Inc.
If an identity thief has been opening new accounts in your name, it may be difficult for you to open a new checking account. Chex Systems, Inc., a consumer reporting agency subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, produces reports specifically about checking accounts. You can contact Chex Systems, Inc. directly to request a copy of your consumer report free of charge. Review the information and dispute inaccuracies. It may also be helpful to contact each of the banks where accounts were attempted to be opened and make sure that any fraudulently opened accounts have been closed.
You can contact Chex Systems, Inc. by phone at 1-800-428-9623, on their website, or by writing to them at: Chex Systems, Inc., Attn: Consumer Relations, 7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100, Woodbury, MN 55125.
For more information about identity theft prevention and protection, or to find additional identity theft resources, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.
When you are a victim of identity theft that affects your bank accounts or bank-issued credit cards, your first action is to contact the banking institution directly and enlist their help to resolve the problems. However, if you have difficulty getting cooperation directly from the institution, seek assistance from the identity theft resource center of the agency that oversees your bank.
· Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC supervises state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System, and insures deposits at banks and savings and loans.
· Federal Reserve System (Fed). The Fed supervises state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System.
· National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). The NCUA charters and supervises federal credit unions and insures deposits at federal credit unions and many state credit unions.
· Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC charters and supervises national banks. When the word "national" or “N.A.” is included in the bank's name, the OCC oversees its operations.
· Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS). The OTS is the primary regulator of all federal, and many state-chartered, thrift institutions, such as savings banks and savings and loan institutions.
If you are uncertain about which of these agencies is the right one, call your bank for the information or visit the National Information Center of the Federal Reserve System and click on the “Institution Search” link.
In 2004, the financial industry founded The Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), a membership-funded organization, to offer free assistance to victims of identity theft to customers of member companies. Originally exclusive to the financial industry, membership was opened to companies in other industries targeted by identity thieves. Although the organization also offers other services to assist members with fraud operations on a company-wide basis, the primary service is identity theft assistance for member customers.
ITAC expedites the process of restoring victims' financial integrity while diffusing much of the related frustration they experience. Once the member company and consumer determine issues resulting from identity theft, the ITAC services are provided at no charge to the victim.
An ITAC representative works with the victim to examine credit reports for suspicious activity. The representative will notify creditors of false and erroneous information and arrange for fraud alerts to be placed with credit bureaus.
ITAC will also share information with law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help further the pursuit and conviction of identity theft criminals.
Although victims of identity theft cannot personally contact the ITAC for assistance, be sure to ask your financial institution if it is a member of the organization and, if so, request free assistance.
For a list of member companies, visit www.identitytheftassistance.org.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|