Don’t panic. But more importantly, do not procrastinate. Take the following action immediately. Research has shown that the quicker a victim of identity theft acts, the less damage is done and the easier it is to avoid a big, tangled mess.
STEP 1: File a police report.
You need to file a police report where the identity theft occurred. Be sure to obtain a copy of the report as you may need to provide it at some point in the future. Texas law does require peace officers to make a written report when a consumer complains of identity theft. You are also entitled to a copy of the report.
STEP 2: File a Fraud Alert with one of the major credit reporting agencies.
You need to file a fraud alert with one of the Big 3 (Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian). The law has a “one-call” provision so that you are required to call all consumer reporting agencies. If you report a fraud alert with any one of the Big 3, they have a duty to notify the other bureaus of the fraud.
Once you file a fraud alert, any reports that are released by the credit reporting agencies are required to contain the fraud alert for a minimum period of 90 days unless you request that the fraud alert be removed. The fraud alert may be extended for a period of up to 7 years at your request. Under Texas law, the fraud alert may be extended by the consumer indefinitely for 45 day periods at a time, and this may be done by telephone provided the consumer provides property identity. Follow up with all telephone requests in writing, certified mail, return receipt requested.
The credit reporting agencies may not include you on any consumer lists sold to third parties for the purpose of soliciting credit or insurance for 5 years. While you only have to contact one of the Big 3, the contact information for the fraud alert for each of the credit reporting agencies is:
Equifax fraud department:
Web: Equifax Fraud Alert
Experian fraud department:
(888) EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
Web: Experian Fraud Alert Center
TransUnion fraud department
Web: TransUnion Fraud Alert
Under Texas law, the consumer reporting agencies must maintain a toll free line for fraud alerts to be answered during normal business hours. After hours, there must be voice mail, and the call must be returned within two hours of the start of the next business day.
Once a fraud alert is included in your report, generally, creditors are put on notice of a potential fraud problem. But more importantly, the law requires that they exercise reasonable measures to ensure the identity of the person they extend credit to who has a fraud alert on their credit report.
Also, within four business days, the consumer reporting agency must block reporting of any information that the consumer has identified as being fraudulent. The consumer must provide an identity theft report. Under Texas law, the consumer reporting agency must tag the credit report with a fraud alert within twenty-four hours of the fraud alert request.
CONSIDER A SECURITY FREEZE
You may also request that your credit accounts be frozen under the Texas Security Freeze Law. To obtain a Texas Security Freeze, you must request a freeze by certified mail, return receipt requested. You must provide proof of your identity, your social security number, your birth date and other pertinent information.
The consumer reporting agency must provide in writing to the consumer within ten business days a confirmation that the freeze has been placed on the account. Additionally, the consumer reporting agency must provide a personal identifier or password for the consumer’s use in accessing information about the file. This can be used by the consumer to authorize a removal or temporary lifting (by telephone) of the security freeze.
There is a charge of approximately $10.00 to $12.00 per consumer reporting agency and each credit bureau must receive a separate letter. Requesting a security freeze differs from a fraud alert in that it is stronger and prevents anyone from accessing your credit file until you authorize the consumer reporting agency to release your report. This does not apply to existing creditors rights to periodically access your accounts.
You will have to weigh the risk of potential havoc from the identity theft against the inconvenience of not being able to apply for new credit, employment, an apartment, etc. until the freeze is lifted. You can have the freeze lifted either for a specific time or for a specific creditor, but there may be a charge of approximately $10.00 to $12.00 per consumer reporting agency.
STEP 3: Cancel any accounts that you know have been compromised.
STEP 4: Check for recent inquiries, new accounts, or other unusual activity.
Obtain a copy of your credit report and check for recent inquiries or new accounts opened without your knowledge or other unusual activity.
Examine your credit reports carefully. Look for any recent inquiries or new credit accounts. Take action (See section above: There’s a mistake on my credit report. How do I fix it?) to remove any accounts that are not yours. Save copies of all documentation and send everything return receipt requested. You are also entitled to two free credit reports per 12 month period from each of the Big 3, instead of one per year.
STEP 5: File a Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission.
You may contact them by phone at 877 ID-THEFT or write:
Federal Trade Division
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
Texas Attorney General – Steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft — includes contact information