A stolen identity doesn’t have to mean a stolen peace of mind. It’s just a matter of staying organized and digging up the past.
“It’s like pretending you’re on CSI,” says Randall Ryder
, a consumer attorney
at Ryder Law Firm in Minneapolis. “You’ve got to go investigate the crime scene, figure out what happened, and then just create a massive paper trail moving forward.”
Before taking any big steps, you first need to diagnose exactly what’s going on to ensure there actually is an occurrence of identity theft, Ryder says.
Investigate the Crime Scene
For instance, if a debt collector calls you about a debt you didn’t even know existed, you should find out:
- Who’s contacting you
- What they’re calling about
- What they’re asking for
Then ask the caller to send the request in writing so you have hard documentation of their claim. At this point, Ryder suggests pulling your credit reports from the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) to see if there is something on there you don’t recognize.
Create a Paper Trail
It’s important to document who you called, when you called, and what you told or sent them. “Simply calling places and not writing down when and where you did something, that’s going to potentially be problematic,” Ryder says. ”It’s easier to prove [identity theft] when I can say ‘OK, here’s the letter that my client sent to everybody saying their identity was stolen.’”
Check on Your Credit
You can look at your free credit report by going to annualcreditreport.com
; you should never have to pay for a credit report, so ignore sites that charge you. If you see anything on your credit report that doesn’t belong to you, E. Michelle Drake
, a class action attorney at Berger & Montague in Minneapolis, suggests two steps to take.
You have the right under the Fair Credit Billing Act to challenge any erroneous charges on your credit card bill. Just make sure to contact your credit card company in writing within 60 days of the first error you notice. The credit card company is then required to respond to your inquiry in writing within 30 days and must clear the erroneous charges.
You can also request a credit freeze, which prevents the credit reporting agency from providing any of your credit report information without your written authorization, which would prevent someone from opening a credit card in your name.
One Last Thing To Think About
“Often many cases of identity theft are connected by people who we know and love and trust, and who have access to all the information that we would need,” Drake says.
For general information on identity theft victims, data breaches and scams, and fraud alerts, see our overview of consumer law.