Key Things to Know When Recovering From Identity Theft

AUG 09, 2012

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Multiple federal and state laws exist to protect consumers from identity theft, and if you become a victim, you do have rights under those laws. It pays to educate yourself about your rights under the laws.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a great rundown of your rights under federal law when youre recovering from identity theft. Those rights include:

  • Filing of a highly detailed identity theft report with a law enforcement agency. You can use this report when dealing with credit bureaus and companies that have been involved in the fraud.
  • Placing a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit files if you suspect youre a victim of identity theft but dont yet have verification. This lets anyone who views your credit report know that they need to verify whos applying for credit in your name. You need contact only one of the three major credit bureaus to initiate the alert, and that bureau will take care of passing the information on to the other two.
  • If you become a victim of identity theft, placing a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit files. For this type of alert, you need to work with each of the three major credit reporting companies directly.
  • Obtaining a free copy of your credit report and a summary of your rights from each credit bureau.
  • Asking the bureaus to block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report.
  • Disputing fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report. The credit reporting company is required to investigate your claim and fix your report if they verify the information is fraudulent.
  • Preventing creditors and debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts to the credit reporting companies, once youve given them a valid copy of an identity theft report.
  • Obtaining copies of documents related to the incident of identity theft. This could include things like applications used to pen new accounts or transaction records.
  • Stopping debt collectors from pursuing you for fraudulent debts.

In addition, if you become the victim of identity theft, you cant be held liable for more than $50 of fraudulent credit card purchases as long as you alert the credit card company within 60 days of the credit card statement on which the fraudulent charges appear. Some credit card companies wont even hold you accountable for the $50 permitted under the law. The same limitation applies to your ATM or debit card, but you must notify the bank within two business days after you realize your card is missing.

If a fraudulent electronic withdrawal shows up on your bank or credit card account, and your debit card is still in your wallet, youre not liable for any charges as long as you alert the financial institution within 60 days of the statement date.

Your state may offer additional protections, and you should check with your state attorney generals office if you think youve been the victim of identity theft.