Identity Theft

What to do if it happens to you

This guide provides victims of identity theft with the major resources to contact. Unfortunately, at this time victims themselves are burdened with resolving the problem. It is important to act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage.

In dealing with the authorities and financial institutions, keep a log of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note time spent and any expenses incurred. Confirm conversations in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep copies of all letters and documents.

Credit Bureaus

Immediately call the fraud units of the three credit report companies — Experian (formerly TRW), Equifax, and Trans Union. Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers. Ask that you account be flagged. Also, add a victim’s statement to your report. (“My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at (311) 123-4567 to verify all applications.”) Be sure to ask how long the fraud alert is posted on your account and how you can extend it if necessary.

Be aware that these measures may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the impostor. Ask the credit bureaus in writing to provide you with free copies every few months so you can monitor your credit report.

Ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask the credit bureau to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information (two years for employers).

If fraudulent charges appear on one of your accounts call the Consumer Credit Counseling Service at (800) 388-2227 for help in clearing false claims from your credit report.


Contact all creditors immediately with whom your name has been used fraudulently — by phone and in writing. Get replacement cards with new account numbers for your own accounts that have been used fraudulently. Ask that old accounts be processed as “account closed at consumer’s request”. (This is better than “card lost or stolen.” because when this statement is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss." Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. Report it immediately to credit grantors.

Fraud verification requirements. You may be asked by banks and credit grantors to fill out and notarize fraud affidavits, which could be costly. The law does not require you to provide a notarized affidavit. A written statement and supporting documentation should be enough (unless the creditor offers to pay for the notary.) Overly burdensome requirements by creditors should be reported to federal government authorities. For help in determining which agency to contact, call CALPIRG or the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Law Enforcement

Report the crime to all police and sheriff’s departments with jurisdiction in your case. Give them as much documentation evidence as possible. Get a copy of your police report. Keep the phone number of your fraud investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. Some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports n such crimes. Be persistent!

Stolen Checks

If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the check verification companies (see next below for names and phone numbers). Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of. Cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Give the bank a secret password for you account (not mother’s maiden name).

ATM Cards

If your ATM or debit card has been stolen or compromised, report it immediately. Get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, don’t use common numbers like the last four digits of your Social Security number or you birth date.

Fraudulent Change of Address

Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. (Call the local Postmaster to obtain the phone number.) Find out where the fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier.

Secret Service Jurisdiction

The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud, but it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high or you are one of the many victims of a fraud ring. To interest the Secret Services in your case, you may want to ask the fraud department of the credit card companies and/or banks, as well as the police investigator, to notify the particular Secret Service agent they work with.

Social Security Number Misuse

Call the Social Security Administration to report fraudulent use of your Social Security number. As a last resort, you might want to try to change your number. The SSA will only change it, however, if you fit their fraud victim criteria. Also order a copy of you Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy.


If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently.

Phone Service

If your long distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password which must be used any time the account is changed.

Drivers License Number Misuse

You may need to change your driver’s license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Got to your local DMV to request a new number. Also, fill out the DMV’s complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office.

False Civil and Criminal Judgments

Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter. If a civil judgment has been entered in your name for actions taken by your imposter, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the state Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask how to clear your name.

Legal Help

You may want to consult an attorney to determine legal action to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. Call the local Bar Association to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Dealing with Emotional Stress

Psychological counseling may help you deal with the stress and anxiety commonly experienced by victims. Know that you are no alone. Contact CALPIRG or the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for information on how to network with other victims.

Making Change

Write to your state and federal legislators. Demand stronger privacy protection and fraud assistance by creditors and credit bureaus. Contact CALPIRG for information on any pending state or federal legislation.

Don’t Give In

Finally, do not pay any bill or portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft. Do not cover any checks which were written and/or cashed fraudulently. Do not file for bankruptcy. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution, or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don’t allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills.


Credit reporting bureaus

Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Report fraud: Call (800) 525-6285 and write to address above.
Order credit report: (800) 685-1111
Opt out of pre-approved offers of credit: (888) 567-8688
Web site:

Experian (formerly TRW): P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013
Report Fraud: Call (888)EXPERIAN (888-397-3724). Or write to address above.
Order credit report: (888)EXPERIAN
Opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists:
Web site:

Trans Union: P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064
Report Fraud: (800) 680-7289 and write to Fraud Victim Assistance Division: P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634.
Order Credit Report: (800)888-4213
Opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists:
(800) 680-7293 or write P.O. Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39238
Web site:

Remember, you are entitled to a free credit report if you are a victim of identity theft, if you have been denied credit, if you receive welfare benefits, or if you are unemployed.

Social Security Administration

Report fraud: (800) 269-0271
Order your Earnings and Benefits Statement: (800) 772-1213

Remove your name from mail and phone lists

Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Services, P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735
Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735

To report fraudulent use of your checks

CheckRite: (800) 766-2748
Chexsystems: (800) 428-9623
CrossCheck: (707) 586-0551
Equifax: (800) 437-5120
National Processing Co.: (800) 526-5380
SCAN: (800) 262-7771
TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898

Other useful resources

  • Federal Government Information Center: Call (800) 688-9889 for help in obtaining agency phone numbers.
  • CALPIRG, 11965 Venice Blvd., Suite 408, Los Angeles, CA 90066. Phone: (310) 397-3404. Web address: Find out about its support group, Victims of Identity Theft, Participate in the online victims’ discussion group,, co-sponsored by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
  • Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 1717 Kettner Ave., Suite 105, San Diego, CA 92101. Phone: (619) 298-3396. Web address: Obtain its book, The Privacy Rights Handbook (Avon, 1997).

This publication is a joint project of CALPIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. It is funded by the San Francisco Foundation’s Bank of America Consumer Education Fund.
Copyright 1997-1998 CALPIRG Charitable Trust and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse house/UCAN.
Jan. 1997, Rev’d April 1998.h3.