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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.
Prevent identity theft by placing a FREE credit freeze your credit report with the three major credit reporting agencies. A credit freeze prevents unauthorized parties from accessing your credit report unless you give them specific permission. A current lender can access your report information for the purposes of account maintenance, monitoring credit line increases and account upgrades and enhancements. Locking down your credit will not impact your credit score.
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You can place a freeze with the three credit reporting agencies via their website, telephone or by letter. Telephone calls and website requests are the easiest and fastest way to file the freeze. It takes approximately 5-10 minutes per agency to place a freeze this way. You will be asked to provide personal information, such as your social security number (SSN), date of birth, partial address, and zip code.
When requesting the freeze in writing you will need to provide a letter with the information above and your full name and signature, current street address and any addresses where you have lived during the past two years, a copy of an official photo government ID, and a copy of a recent utility bill.
In all cases, the credit reporting agency will follow up with you in writing, confirming placement of the file freeze and providing you with a personal identification number or PIN. A PIN is used to temporarily unfreeze your credit file for a specific period of time or for a specific creditor, or to permanently unfreeze your credit file. Unfreezing and then refreezing your credit report is also free under Maine law.
Consider placing freezes on the accounts of your children too. If their SSN gets in the wrong hands someone could attempt to open credit in their name, if successful they become the victims of identity theft. You can also place a freeze on a minors file; however, a credit reporting agency can charge $10 to create a file if one does not already exist. The freeze can be placed for free. At least one reporting agency – Equifax – is creating files for free.
A credit freeze cannot protect you from fraudulent credit or debit charges. Regularly review your statements from credit card companies and your health care providers to catch any errant charges and dispute them promptly.
Under Maine law you are entitled to a free credit report from the three reporting agencies each year. The website www.AnnualCreditReport.com is the official access point for all three major credit reporting agencies. If you request one every 4 months from a different agency through this website, you will always get the most recent snapshot of your credit and give you the ability to address any discrepancies.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is 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.
Next, go to www.IdentityTheft.gov. This site is managed by the Federal Trade Commission and provides step by step instructions based on your particular kind of identity theft. You can create an account, have letters drafted to assist you with businesses alerting them to your ID theft and more. We can also send you a copy of their publications, however, this website has the most up to date information to assist you.
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. 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 (60) days of the initial fraud.
Under federal law, 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.
Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection: (207) 624-8527 or 1-800-332-8529
Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles: (To report stolen driver's license) (207) 624-9000 extension 52144 or http://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/index.html
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
Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of the Inspector General: 1-800-269-0271 or www.socialsecurity.gov/oig
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.