Identity Theft

What to do about identity theft

I do not know if this actually came from an attorney; however, it is sound advice.

Read this and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday.

A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company:

  1. The next time you order checks, omit your first name and have only your initials and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
  2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
  3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks (DUH!) you can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
  4. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.

    Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad.We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards, etc.Unfortunately I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.

But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

  • We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily.
  • File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

But here's what is perhaps most important: (I never even thought to do this).

  • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name.

The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done.

There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them in their tracks.

The numbers are listed below.

Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union:1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration (fraud line):1-800-269-0271

What to do when Your Identity's been stolen.

What can you do to protect yourself? Choose a topic below to see what the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends: Click Here for the complete Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Guide to preventing identity theft.

Step 1: Protect your finances

Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Get a copy of your credit report, which is free to ID theft victims.

Ask that your file be flagged with a "fraud alert tag" and a "victim's statement."

That will limit the thief’s ability to open new credit accounts, as new creditors will call you before granting credit, generally.

Insist, in writing, that the fraud alert remain in place for seven years, the maximum, according to

Credit bureaus:




Step 2: File a police report

You will need a police report to dispute unauthorized charges and for any insurance claims.

Be persistent; your local police department may suggest that this isn’t necessary, because they don’t want the paperwork hassle.

Also, fill out an online ID Theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-ID-THEFT.

That enters your case in the FTC’s “Consumer Sentinel” database, a nationwide list of ID theft cases which can be used by law enforcement officers to find patterns and catch criminals.

Step 3: Close all compromised accounts

The list may be wider than you realize.

This includes accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers.

Dispute all unauthorized charges – The FTC offers a sample dispute letter on its Web site.

Disputes may require a sworn statement and a police report.

The FTC also offers a form affidavit which can be used for the sworn statement at

More Help

For the FTC Identity Theft complaint form: Click Here

More detailed 17-step plan to follow if your ID is stolen: Click Here

“When bad things happen to your good name” – FTC document full of sample dispute letters and other recovery procedures: Click Here

U.S. Department of Justice ID Theft kit: Click Here

Identity Theft Resource Center: Click Here

Organizing your ID theft case – good paperwork is key: Click Here

ID theft laws vary by state – here’s a list of state laws: Click Here

Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice ID Theft page: Click Here