It may start with a strange phone call, or an unexplained letter from a bill collector. Someone says you owe them money, but you don’t remember borrowing any money from the company that is calling you.
This could be your first sign that you are a victim of identity theft. Almost 14,000 reports of identity theft were filed in Michigan in 2018, ranking the state eighth in the country on a per-capita basis. Nationwide, fraud and identity theft resulted in $1.48 billion in losses.
Such huge statistics can make identity theft seem less personal. But if you have been the victim, identity theft can be an intensely personal and emotional problem. Effectively dealing with identity theft, however, requires a cool head and calm approach. There is no need panic, because a network of federal and state laws protects consumers from the harmful effects of identity theft. By following these steps, you can strike back at identity theft and protect your financial future.
Identity theft can be silent for a long time, until that phone call or letter arrives. It can catch you off guard, but do not overreact. Once you have learned that you have been a victim, you should open a file folder for any documents that relate to your credit.
Ultimately, facts and documents will be your friends, so save any correspondence, emails, voice mails and text messages relating to your finances. Collect as many as you can.
Get Your Credit Reports
The best way to understand what has happened, and how long it’s been happening, is to get a copy of your credit report from the three major agencies. The reports will show the accounts that have been opened in your name, as well as the companies that have looked at your reports after receiving credit applications.
Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian will provide one free credit report annually, and you can request each one from their website. Even if you have received a report within the last year, you can request a new, free copy by letting the credit bureaus know that you have been a victim of identity theft.
Keep in mind that you are requesting your credit report and not your credit score. Credit reports display a history of your activity, going back seven to 10 years. Your credit score is simply a metric based on your activity used to classify you to lenders.
Be aware that each credit bureau heavily markets paid services on their websites, but you are not required to pay any fee for a free annual credit report. Be sure to obtain all three, since not all businesses or information providers work with each bureau. This means you might find evidence of your identity theft on only one report.
Once you have the reports, review them closely for entries that are incorrect or unfamiliar. Lyngklip & Associates provides a worksheet that you can complete for each credit report, outlining mistakes and unusual entries in personal information or borrowing history.
Your credit reports are just one source of identity theft evidence. Here are some more indicators that may require investigation:
- A company you do business with notifies you that they were a victim of a data breach.
- You are notified about government assistance that you did not receive.
- A medical insurance provider bills you for services you did not receive.
- The state treasury or IRS tells you they received more than one tax return in your name.
No matter how the evidence comes through, document everything! Make notes about who you talk with and when. Write down phone numbers of incoming calls. Save all related email and mail correspondence.
Protect Credit from Further Fraud
Once you have all your documentation, immediately begin protecting yourself. Start by placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Experian and Equifax have links directly on their home pages; on the TransUnion site, click on “Credit Help” on the home page. But you need only place a fraud alert with one credit bureau; that one will pass the alert along to the others.
A fraud alert will not hurt your credit score, according to the credit bureaus, but it could slow the process of obtaining credit.
Another option is to place a security freeze on your credit report. This prevents your credit report from being accessed to open any new accounts. This is a more extreme measure and should be done individually with all three bureaus.
Additionally, consumers who have been identity theft victims should opt-out of prescreened offers. Creditors generate these offers to consumers who meet certain, pre-established qualifications and do not require that consumers apply for credit. Instead, the credit bureaus sell the names and contact information of qualifying consumers to potential creditors.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, there is a good chance that a creditor may receive your name along with a false address provided by an identity thief. To avoid this, opt-out of prescreened offers, and the credit bureaus will not be able to sell your report to companies unless you have applied for credit or insurance.
You will want to make creditors aware that you are a victim of identity theft, whether or not that particular account has been compromised.
For compromised accounts, or those opened fraudulently in your name, call first to notify them of the problem. During the call, ask for a name and address where you can send a follow-up correspondence. Using this form letter may make it easier.
Michigan also provides a letter for you to send to creditors where accounts remain uncompromised. You want them to know to leave the account open, but that they should flag your account to watch for suspicious activity.
Send all these letters by certified mail with a return receipt to further document your efforts.
Contact an Experienced Identity Fraud Lawyer for Help
These steps are a starting point for dealing with identity fraud in Michigan. Each case can be unique, and the consumer law attorneys at Lyngklip & Associates have experience in dealing with different situations that might arise. Obtain a free consultation about your identity fraud situation by calling (248) 208-8846 or by sending us a message on our website.