Identity theft is a crime which generally results in fraud. If you believe you have become a victim of identity theft, you must act immediately to minimize the damage and to secure your legal rights. Fighting identity theft can be frustrating and time-consuming, but resources exist to help you.
Credit freezes and fraud alerts can protect you from identity theft or prevent further misuse of your personal information if it was stolen. Learn what they do and how to place them.
Who can place one: Anyone can freeze their credit report, even if their identity has not been stolen.
What it does: A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which means you — or others — won’t be able to open a new credit account while the freeze is in place. You can temporarily lift the credit freeze if you need to apply for new credit. When the freeze is in place, you will still be able to do things like apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance without lifting or removing it.
Duration: A credit freeze lasts until you remove it.
How to place: Contact each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Fraud alerts are available in different situations and have different benefits.
Who can place one: Anyone who suspects fraud can place a fraud alert on their credit report.
What it does: A fraud alert will make it harder for someone to open a new credit account in your name. A business must verify your identity before it issues new credit in your name.
When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
Duration: A fraud alert lasts one year. After a year, you can renew it.
How to place a fraud alert: Contact any one of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You don’t have to contact all three. The credit bureau you contact must tell the other two to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
Report the crime immediately to local law enforcement
Make sure a written report is taken and that you receive a copy of the police report so that you can give copies to creditors. If local law enforcement will not give you a copy of your report, contact the Attorney General at 626-8800.
Contact any creditors or financial institutions if you believe your accounts have been tampered with or if fraudulent accounts have been opened
Close the accounts and ask for a fraud investigation. If you contact them initially by phone, make sure that you confirm your conversation in writing. Download a sample letter you can use to dispute a fraudulent account or charge (MS Word). Some companies have forms you can use to dispute the charges due to fraud but in most cases, the dispute must take place within sixty days of the initial fraud.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
Steps to take if the identity theft has resulted in a fraudulent electronic withdrawal from your account:
- The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.
- You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is "skimmed" that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.
- If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.
- If you report the loss or theft within two business days of discovery, your losses are limited to $50.
- If you report the loss or theft after two business days, but within 60 days after the unauthorized electronic fund transfer appears on your statement, you could lose up to $500 of what the thief withdraws.
- If you wait more than 60 days to report the loss or theft, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days.
Note: VISA and MasterCard voluntarily have agreed to limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.
The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing by certified letter, return receipt requested so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.
After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.
Steps to take if the identity theft has occurred due to fraudulent checks and other "paper" transactions
In general, if an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, you must notify the bank to stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of "paper" transaction such as a demand draft, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services
To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:
TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188
Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems) at 1-800-437-5120
To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver's license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects your check should give you its check verification company contact information so you can find out what type of information the thief is using.
If you find that the thief is using your MICR code, ask your bank to close your checking account, and open a new one. If you discover that the thief is using your driver's license number or some other identification number, work with your Bureau of Motor Vehicles or other identification issuing agency to get new identification with new numbers. Once you have taken the appropriate steps, your checks should be accepted. The check verification company may or may not remove the information about the MICR code or the driver's license/identification number from its database because this information may help prevent the thief from continuing to commit fraud. If the checks are being passed on a new account, contact the bank to close the account. Also contact Chex Systems, Inc., to review your consumer report to make sure that no other bank accounts have been opened in your name. Dispute any bad checks passed in your name with merchants so they don't start any collections actions against you.
File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) You can file a report by visiting https://www.identitytheft.gov/
To find out more about your rights, specific laws and sample forms(including a sample Identity Theft Affidavit), visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
Contact the 3 credit reporting agencies using the form they provide to correct errors and place a block on the accounts in question. The Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates that they must remove the information unless the credit issuer can prove that it is true. The credit reporting agencies must also change any information provided by the thief including addresses, phone numbers or birthdates. Download a sample letter requesting a block on the accounts.
Insist on Clearance letters from the creditors and/or credit reporting bureaus and keep them in your records for 10 years.
Carefully check all credit reports to monitor the corrections.
Maine Attorney General Consumer Protection Division - 207-626-8849, or contact us by submitting a webform. We will respond as soon as possible.
Maine Office of Consumer Credit Regulation - (207) 624-8527
Toll Free consumer line (Maine only) 1-800-332-8529, 35 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04330-0035
Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles - (To report stolen driver's license.) Call 207-624-9000 extension 52144, write to 29 State House Station Augusta, Maine 04333 or visit the website at http://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/index.html
Federal Do Not Call Registry: You can register online at www.donotcall.gov or call toll-free, 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
Federal Trade Commission Hotline (1-877-ID-THEFT).
Tax Fraud - IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service www.irs.gov/advocate/ or call toll-free: 1-877-777-4778
Maine Revenue Services – call (207) 626-8475.
Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of the Inspector General - You may file a complaint online at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig, call toll-free: 1-800-269-0271, fax: 410-597-0118, or write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.
For non-cellular phones, call the Maine Public Utilities Commission Consumer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-452-4699.
For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. You can file complaints online at www.fcc.gov, or e-mail your questions to email@example.com.
Mail Theft - The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service and investigates cases of identity theft. The USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers, or tax information, or has falsified change-of-address forms or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it by calling the U. S. Postal Inspector at 207-871-8587 or by writing: U. S. Postal Inspector, State of Maine, 125 Forest Avenue, Portland, ME 04104