Having your personal information stolen for fraudulent purposes--identity theft--is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S., according to the Department of Justice. The thieves who perpetuate these crimes are also some of the most difficult to catch and arrest because they usually have no in-person contact with their victims. Simple everyday activities such as selling a used personal computer, going out for dinner, or taking out your trash can lead to an identity theft incident. For that reason, identity theft is easier to prevent than prosecute but if you have been the victim of an identity thief, here are some things you can do to help law enforcement apprehend the guilty party.
Finding and Following the Trail
Request a copy of the police report attached to your case. This will be used to prove to credit card companies, banks, and any other financial institutions that these purchases and or charges were not legitimate and is your best way to get the thefts removed from your account.
Check all debits or withdrawals listed on your bank statements and all charges to your credit cards listed on your monthly bills. If any of these look suspicious, contact your bank and your credit card companies immediately. At the bank, ask to speak to the person in charge of fraud prevention; at the credit card company, ask to speak to the identity theft department. Have your statements ready when you call and be prepared to answer any questions about your spending habits.
Assuming you have already contacted law enforcement, these statements can give more detail about the crime and so you should ask both the bank and the credit card companies to pass this information to the police department where you reported the crime. Cancel your credit and debit cards and request replacements.
Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRA) and ask that a fraud alert be attached to your file. This alerts CRA staff that your personal information has been compromised. Your credit report can be a complicated document with information going back many years so expect to spend some time going over the reports and comparing the data. Look for inconsistencies and any new incidences of identity theft. This could include application for a credit card or consumer loan in your name that you did not initiate. Each of the three major CRAs has a fraud reporting hotline which you should call immediately to report any suspicious activity. Equifax's hotline number is (800) 525-6285; Experian's is (888) 397-3742; and TransUnion's is (800) 680-7289.
Pass all of this information on to the police officer working on your case.
Pay a visit to your local post office and ask to speak with a supervisor. Explain that you have been a victim of identity theft and ask the person to check to see that no one has filed a fraudulent change of address form for your address. Identity thieves do this in order to intercept credit card offers, then apply for a credit card in your name without your knowledge. If this has happened at your address, inform the post office supervisor and pass this new information onto police. Whatever forwarding address the thief gave could lead to an arrest.
Most identity thieves do not limit their crimes to one victim but strike again and again. This can be terrible for victims but helpful to law enforcement. To take advantage of this, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This is quick and easy and can be done via an online form posted on their website. The information from your report is logged into a national database of identity theft incidents, the FTC's Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, and is compared to thousands of other crimes in order to catch the thieves. While the FTC does not file criminal charges, they will pass the information on to local law enforcement.
Mardi Link is a former police reporter, covering crime and law for five years. She has two true crime books, When Evil Came to Good Hart and Isadore's Secret (University of Michigan Press). Her articles appear in The Detroit Free Press, ForeWord, and TC Business News. She lives in northern Michigan.