Recently a client came to us with questions about ID theft and a very unusual situation that he experienced. Since most people would not expect this to occur I thought it is a great example to share. This was his question to us:
About six months ago I wound up having to stay in a hospital for minor surgery. Everything went well and there were no issues with my physical health, however, my credit health took a dip. I recently learned the hospital had an employee that stole and sold patients personal information including, social security numbers, addresses, etc. Last week, I found out that someone had opened three cell phone accounts in my name and took out insurance on the phones as well. What should I do to protect myself?
Identity theft is one of the most popular crimes that consumers fall victim to. The first step is to contact the cell phone company and make sure they know this is fraud. Ask them to guide you through the steps to be taken. They will also give you a fraud package or form which you will fill out and send back to them. Make sure to keep a copy in a file for yourself, jot down the names and ID numbers of all you speak to (noting what was said), and get something in writing from the creditor confirming acknowledgment of the fraud. You must also make a police
report and keep a copy with your records.
You should also order your credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free copy annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. By ordering these reports you will not hurt your credit score at all. When you receive the reports look through them carefully taking note of any accounts you do not recognize. At the end of the reports there will usually be a section showing “inquiries viewed by others” and “inquiries viewed by you”. The first type is the one of concern. It is a list of creditors who have pulled your credit and may have approved the opening of accounts in your name. If you see any accounts or inquiries that you do not recognize call the creditor for further investigation. It is also a good idea to call all your creditors and alert them as to what has occurred. This allows them to watch for suspicious activity and protects you from liability if the thieves have more information than you realize. There is no need to close accounts if there has not been theft activity.
You must place a Fraud Alert on your credit. Fraud Alerts are a way to let creditors know precaution must be taken before allowing the opening of credit in your name. A note will be listed on your credit profile alerting all creditors to contact you directly before approving credit. Once you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau the others will be notified automatically.
In many cases when a creditor or hospital has a breach of security like this they offer a free credit monitoring product to consumers at risk. This allows them to watch their credit daily. Most of these monitoring products offer access to fraud alert protection as well. Take the monitoring product if offered and it will guide you through listing a fraud alert on your credit. If a monitoring product is not offered you can go to any of the 3 bureaus listed below and fill out a fraud alert form directly. There are two types of fraud alerts: 90 day and 7 year extended. It is best to take the extended one for extra protection if you can. All of the bureaus offer credit monitoring products for purchase as well. If you did not get a free credit monitoring offer it is a good idea to buy your own monitoring product. This will give you continued security and credit management in case other items pop up that have not yet been reported. If you live in NY and ID theft insurance is offered with these products make sure to read the fine print since most exclude NY residence from coverage.
1. Experian: 1-888-525-6285, www.experian.com to add an alert and view your report immediately.
2. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com
Also filing a complaint with the FTC may help to catch criminals nationwide: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.