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Identity theft FAQ

1.  What are the signs that my identity has been stolen?

Often, your credit card company will alert you when suspicious expenses are charged to your account.  If indeed your identity has been stolen, the company will usually “eat” these charges — hence, even though the median theft is $500, the median out of pocket expense is $0.

In the case of new-account fraud, the most serious type of identity theft where someone opens new credit in your name, your first warning might be contact from a debt collection agency, an unexpected dip in your credit score or new credit cards and/or credit card bills arriving in the mail.  That’s why it’s important to monitor your own accounts and credit score and avail yourself of your free credit reports annually from each credit bureau — to catch any problems before they become more serious.

2.  What’s the first thing I should do if I suspect identity theft?

If you suspect identity theft, you should close the suspicious account(s) and notify a credit reporting agency.  They will likely recommend that you place a 90-day fraud alert on your account.  This measure requires any creditor to verify that an applicant for credit is really you and not the ID thief.

Next, you should file an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and file a police report.

3.  How much (value) does an identity thief usually steal?

The median value obtained by identity thieves is $500, with a median of $350 for existing credit cards only, and a median of $1,350 for new account fraud, according to the FTC 2006 “Identity Theft Survey Report.”  Ten percent of ID thefts exceed $6,000, with a median of $15,000 for new-account fraud.

Fortunately, most ID thefts cost no money for the victim, despite a median out-of-pocket cost of $40 for new-account fraud.  Ten percent of ID theft costs the victim $1,200 or more, and $3,000 for new-account fraud, according to the FTC report.

4. How long does identity theft usually take to get resolved?

There is quite a range in this category.  Twenty-three percent of victims have the problem completely resolved within a day, according to the FTC report, while for 11 percent, the problems drag out for three months or longer.  Most ID thefts fall between these two extremes; generally, the situation is resolved in about a week.  Most cases require fewer than 10 hours of the victim’s time, the report says, although for new-account fraud, all of the totals increase.

5.  I check my credit report every year.  What else should I do?

Get your name off of pre-approved credit mailing lists.  A favorite tactic of ID thieves is to snatch mail straight from your mailbox and harvest information from it.  So the less mail you’re receiving with your personal information, the better. Go to Optoutprescreen.com or call (888) 567-8688 to take care of the problem yourself.

Also, be cautious online.  Don’t even open suspicious e-mails that could trigger spyware in your computer, and be wary of “phishing scams,” which send fraudulent e-mails designed to imitate legitimate businesses or agencies and ask for your social security number.

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