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How Do I Recover from Identity Theft?

It's very important to take immediate action if you feel you've been a victim of identity theft; do not delay. Here are some critical steps you should take as soon as possible.

Initiate a fraud alert.

Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact any one of these three major consumer reporting companies:

Equifax P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 1-800-525-6285

Experian P.O. Box 9532 Allen, TX 75013 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Division P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834-6790 1-800-680-7289

Get a credit report.

After placing the fraud alert, get a copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies. Review the reports, looking for companies you've never dealt with, accounts you didn't open, or debts you can't explain. Verify that your personal information, especially your SSN, is correct. Take steps to have incorrect information removed or corrected.

Change PINs and access codes.

Immediately contact all institutions where you have accounts. Change the PINs on all your debit/credit cards. Change passwords for all your online accounts.

Close compromised accounts.

This is a critical but time-consuming step. For any compromised account, or any account opened fraudulently, you'll need to contact that company and have the account closed. There's generally a fraud department; deal with it directly. Follow up on all communications, in writing. Send only copies of relevant documents, not the originals.

Keep good records.

Make a record of all communications you make related to each fraud problem. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you can document what the company received and when.

Ask for verification.

Once you've resolved any disputes, ask for verification to be sent to you in writing. File this verification carefully and maintain these records. While there is no suggested timeline for retaining this sort of record, I'd recommend at least one year.

File a complaint with the FTC.

The quickest way to get a complaint filed is to pick up the phone and call the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). You can also write to this address:

Identity Theft Clearinghouse Federal Trade Commission 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20580

By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you'll provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and private companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

File a police report.

Contact your local police department concerning the identity theft. Provide them with a copy of your FTC Theft Complaint, along with any supporting information you may have.

Contact the SSA.

The Social Security Administration has a toll-free number that operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday: 1-800-772-1213. Call and explain the situation. You may also want to provide them with a copy of your FTC Theft Complaint.

Notify the U.S. State Department

If your passport is lost or stolen, contact the State Department as soon as you notice the loss. Write to this address:

U.S. Department of State Passport Services Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section 1111 19th St. NW, Ste. 500 Washington, DC 20036
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