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What Do I Do if I Am a Victim?

You may be a victim of identity theft if you:

·                    Fail to receive bills or other mail, signaling a change of address by the thief.

·                    Receive credit cards that you did not apply for.

·                    Are denied credit for no apparent reason.

·                    Receive calls from debt collectors or companies in reference to debts you do not owe or merchandise or services you did not purchase.

In addition to the information below, CALPIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse have a detailed fact sheet for victims available here. Much of the information is useful nationally although some is California specific.

In nearly every state, it is a crime to use another person’s identity to obtain a product or service, to avoid payment of debt, or to avoid prosecution for crime.  The Federal Trade Commission details both federal and state information protection laws here. Back to Top

Four Important Steps For Potential Victims

In general, if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, you should not be responsible for fraudulent charges, but you do need to clear your name.  To lessen the impact of fraud and theft, take the following steps immediately.

1.  Contact one of the three major credit bureaus.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report and obtain free credit reports.  Once your alert has been confirmed by the credit bureau, the other two bureaus will be notified and all three must send you a free credit report.  Fraud victims are entitled to a free report from each bureau, even if they have already obtained one under their state’s law.

The bureaus will immediately send you additional information, including information how to (1) extend your initial 90-day fraud alert to 7 years, (2) How to file fraud affidavits to dispute charges made by thief to clear your name, and (3) how to block false trade lines from appearing on your report. (4) You’ll need to check your reports again to make sure these steps are taken. Victims are entitled to 2 additional reports for free in the year after filing an extended fraud alert. More information is available here at the FTC. A completed FTC fraud affidavit should be usable to gain any rights or for any contacts with the credit bureaus, as well as be suitable for most contacts with businesses. The information you obtain from the bureaus should explain in detail your new right, in most circumstances, to obtain records from businesses where thieves have opened accounts or used your name to obtain services with existing accounts. Back to Top

Contacting the credit bureaus to set up fraud alerts and block false information from appearing on your report:


Report fraud:

Call (800) 525-6285 and write to: P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348.




Call: 1 888 397-3742

Or Write:


P.O. Box 2002

Allen, Texas 75013


Call: TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance 800-680-7289

Or Write: TransUnion LLC

P.O. Box 1000

Chester, PA 19022

Military personnel

If you are active duty military personnel you can request a military fraud alert to protect yourself-- even if you have not been victimized. This will help prevent credit from being issued in your name while you may not be promptly seeing your mail.

2.  Remove accounts from your credit report that aren’t yours.

Ask companies to close any accounts that have been opened fraudulently.  Close any of your accounts that have been tampered with.   Back to Top

3.      File a report with local police. 

Over half of consumer fraud and identity theft is never reported to law enforcement.  However, police may be able to recover stolen money and prevent further crime.  In some instances, you won’t qualify for legal protections unless you have filed a police report.

4.      File complaints with government agencies.

Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline (877-IDTHEFT) or visit FTC ID THEFT GATEWAY.

Complain to your state Attorney General. Get his or her address here. Back to Top

Check Verification


Stolen checks or fraudulent bank accounts

If you suspect one of your checks has been stolen, close the account and request the bank notify the appropriate check verification company.  If you know that a particular merchant has received a stolen check in your name, contact the verification company used by that merchant.  Check verification companies are credit bureaus. These firms are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and are required to investigate your disputes with them.

Check Verification Companies

  • Certegy: 800-437-5120
  • CheckRite: 800-766-2748
  • ChexSystems: 800-428-9623
  • CrossCheck: 800-552-1900
  • Equifax: 800-437-5120
  • National Processing Co. (NPC): 800-526-5380
  • SCAN: 800-262-7771
  • TeleCheck: 800-710-9898 Back to Top
Credit Cards

Credit cards

If a new credit account has been set up in your name, contact the creditors immediately by phone and in writing.  Most creditors will allow you to use the fraud affidavit provided by the FTC.  If your existing credit account has been used fraudulently, get a replacement card with a new number.  Request your old account be processed as “account closed at consumer’s request.”

If debt collectors attempt to collect on fraudulent accounts, take the following steps:

·                    Tell them that you are a victim of fraud and are not responsible for the account. 

·                    Record the collecting agency’s name, contact information, and the name of the person who contacted you. 

·                    Get the name and contact information of the referring credit issuer, the amount of the debt, the account number, and the dates of the charges. 

·                    Ask if they need you to complete a fraud affidavit. 

·                    Follow up in writing with the debt collector and request that they confirm in writing that you are not responsible for the debt and that the account has been closed. Back to Top

Additional Resources

Additional resources:

Social Security Fraud, contact the Social Security Administration 800-269-0271

Tax fraud or violations, contact the Internal Revenue Service: 800-829-0433.

Fraudulent use of the mail system or submission of fraudulent change-of-address forms:

Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: 202-636-2300. Find your local Postal Inspector here l or visit the Home Page of the USPS Postal Inspectors Service.

You can also call your local office of the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service to report crimes relating to identity theft and fraud.  The Secret Service can handle financial fraud, but it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high or you are one of many victims of a fraud ring.     

To locate a lawyer who specializes in consumer law, contact a local Legal Referral Service office or visit the National Association of Consumer Advocates.   Back to Top


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Keep a Log.

Final suggestion: Keep a Log

Document the time and money you spend remedying the theft. Keep a log of time and money and (out-of-pocket costs such as copies made, notary public fees, telephone call costs and gas charges and mileage. Plus estimate such factors as lost wages, extra vacation or unpaid leave days devoted to clearing your name, lost opportunities when low-cost credit or other services denied and higher cost credit substituted, etc) In some states, individuals found guilty of identity theft may be ordered to pay restitution for financial losses, such as lost wages and lost time.  If the thief is caught, you can write a victim impact letter to be used in the case, where you can also talk about emotional stress and other factors. Back to Top

Highlights of the PIRG/Consumers Union model law for state legislatures

What Policies Do We Need to Decrease Identity Theft and Strengthen Victim Rights?

State legislators are encouraged to download and introduce into the legislative process the “Clean Credit And Identity Theft Protection Act,” a model law prepared by the state PIRGs and Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports. Highlights are the following.

Police Reports

·                    Police reports are often required by credit bureaus to expunge the record of victims of identity theft as well as rights under the FACT Act to an extended fraud alert and to access business records evidencing fraud of the victim.  Police should be required to take a report when investigating identity theft so that victims can clear their credit records. 

Factual Declaration of Innocence

·                    Victims of identity theft are allowed to petition the court for a “factual declaration of innocence.”  In addition to issuing the victim an official record of that declaration, the state should also establish a database that would keep these records.  If the victim loses the paper, this database would contain the order and a copy of the true person’s fingerprints for comparison in the case of another mistaken identity. Back to Top

Monthly Credit Reports

§                     Consumers shouldn’t have to purchase over-priced credit monitoring services. Instead, they should have the right to a $2/month credit report subscription by law.

Security Freeze

·                    Consumers should be able to “freeze” their credit reports for a certain period of time by providing written notice to credit bureaus.  When an account is frozen, no credit report may be issued, except to existing creditors or for insurance or employment purposes, unless permission is granted by the consumer.  If a request is made on a “frozen” account, the consumer in question will be notified by the credit reporting agency of the request.  Currently, all California and Texas consumes, as well as victims in Louisiana and Vermont, have this right.

Ban The Use of Credit Scores in Insurance

Security Breach Policies

·                    As identity theft in the workplace rises, companies should be required to develop security policies that protect both employees and customers.  These policies should address information collection, storage, and disposal.  Furthermore, these policies should provide for regular security audits.

Destruction of Personal Information

·                    Businesses should be required to make unreadable any documents that contain sensitive information prior to disposal.  At least two states (Georgia and California) require businesses, under threat of penalty, to alter or destroy documents containing consumer information before disposing of them.  Similar laws should protect employees.

Prohibiting Public Display of Personal Information

·                    State law should prohibit the public display of Social Security numbers, including the posting of SSNs on certain cards or materials or requiring use of an individual’s SSN to access an Internet website. Back to Top

Identity theft can strike anyone at anytime. Did you do all this and were you still victimized? Go to PIRG's Cleaning Up Identity Theft Pages
Return To PIRG's Main Credit Reporting and Identity Theft Pages