Identity Theft: 4 Ways the FTC Can Help
Millions of consumers are affected by identity theft each year. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network revealed identity theft was the top complaint category for 2014. Fraud cost consumers a total of more than $1.7 billion last year, averaging about $2,005 per complaint. Thankfully, The FTC has developed a new resource for those who have been victimized by identity thieves. The Commission recently launched IdentityTheft.gov, which will make the process of reporting identity theft easier for victims. Here are some of the offerings you can find on the website.
1. Interactive checklists
Attempting to put the pieces of your life back together after your identity has been stolen can be disconcerting. There are several steps to follow and many people you’ll need to contact. The FTC site features a checklist that guides visitors through a step-by-step process on how to handle the discovery of identity theft. Steps are divided in sections according to urgency. Sections are labeled “what to do right away,” “what to do next,” and “other steps.” There is also a section with guidelines on what to do if you were the victim of a data breach.
2. Sample letters
Financial experts recommend sending a letter to your creditors in addition to all three of the major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) so that you can notify them that you are the victim of identity theft. If you need help deciding what to say in your letters, the new FTC site offers sample letters to help you get started. There are also forms specifically for victims of medical and tax-related identity theft. Letter topics cover a variety of areas such as disputing credit card charges, fraudulent ATM or debit card transactions, and stopping a debt collector from attempting to collect debts that you do not owe.
3. List of rights
The website also provides a list of consumer rights relating to identity theft. The FTC says that if someone steals your identity you have the right to create an identity theft report and place a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report. You also have the right to place a seven-year extended fraud alert. Furthermore, you are entitled to free copies of your credit report (this is in addition to the free reports from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus that all consumers are already entitled to).
4. List of warning signs
The signs of identity theft are not always obvious. Keeping this in mind, the FTC site presents a list of some red flags that could indicate an identity thief is after your information. Some of the signs include unexplained bank withdrawals, missing bills, calls from debt collectors about unfamiliar debts, and medical bills for procedures you did not receive or from doctors you have never visited.
If you need to file an identity theft complaint, you can do this through the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or by phone (877-382-4357).