Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.
Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal identifying information to pretend to be you. This can occur in a number of ways and for a variety of reasons. If you have been the victim of identity theft you will likely have to pull your credit report, dispute fraudulent activity, prove you have not opened accounts or incurred debt, or even prove that you are not the person identified as having committed a crime.
This guide will help you navigate through the challenging process of untangling your credit report and disputing the fraudulent activity. Have the appropriate affidavits notarized to provide the necessary evidence to creditors, credit agencies, the IRS, and/or DPS. Use the provided sample letters to notify creditors and dispute accounts or charges. Record and monitor your progress with the Report, Dispute, Investigate, and Monitor forms.
Common questions about Identity Theft
"Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. The identity thief may use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name." (Source)
- Texas Penal Code §32.51 is the section that provides for ID Theft as a crime in Texas. It states that “A person commits an offense if the person, with the intent to harm or defraud another, obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses an item of identifying information of another person without the other person's consent…”
- Remain calm.
- This will be a lengthy and stressful process, but as long as you know you are following a plan, you can increase your chances of solving most, if not all of the problems you face, and increase your chances of recovering as much as the money you have lost as possible.
- Your first step will probably not involve notifying authorities; although that is one of the steps you will likely take.
- Your very first step will be to pull your credit report from all 3 major credit reporting agencies.
- This is free if you have not received a copy of your report in the previous 12 months. In most cases, you can do this online.
- PREPARATION and ORGANIZATION will help you immensely as you navigate through this process. Keep track of your time and expenses with as much documentation and journaling as possible. Start a file, if not several files, so that you can keep your information organized.
- Follow the ID Theft Guide on this website to help you through this process.
There are a number of ways a person’s identity can be stolen:
- Credit Card Skimming
- This involves the use of technology that can sometimes be spotted at gas stations or ATMs. The “skimmer” is placed on top of the actual scanner, so it’s sometimes hard to spot.
- Dumpster Diving:
- Searching through trash to find personal information to steal
- Electronically breaking into personal computers, databases at financial institutions, and online retailers to steal personal information
- Stealing personal effects (purse, wallet):
- Using someone’s driver’s license, personal checks, or credit or debit cards directl
- Using spam email or the phone to pose as a legitimate organization to lure victims into revealing bank or brokerage account information, password, PINs, Social Security numbers, and other types of confidential information
- Victims can lose
- Time and money spent clearing up financial and credit records
- Lifetime or retirement savings, benefits, or personal property
- Home or home equity
- Retirement income
- Ability to live independently; and
- The chance of recovering all of the money you have lost is slim. However, the guide provided on TexasLawHelp.org and the other resources will help ensure that you receive as much money as possible.
- You may have the opportunity in the future to sue the thief and recover some losses. In order to do this, you will need to consider that your recovery will take some diligent and time-consuming work on your part.
- Secure your social security number (SSN). Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for several days.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Review your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
- Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.
These are characteristics of financial fraud victims in general:
- Senior adults, especially those who have mental or physical impairments
- Individuals who are physical impaired
- Those who have cognitive issues or age-related mental incapacity (e.g., dementia or Alzheimer’s patients)
- Those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or in another way emotionally vulnerable
- Victims of
- Previous victims of financial fraud
- The resources available to you are plentiful and growing!
- Resources specific to Texas
- Reporting is important. It will allow you to assert certain rights, it will allow research agencies to more accurately account for how much identity theft is occurring, and where and when and to whom it is occurring, it allows for the sharing of information to other reporting agencies that can protect consumers by working on prevention and detecting fraud.
- That said, sometimes those are the only purposes for reporting. In other words, in many cases, the act of reporting does not cause a case to be opened or an investigation to begin. Therefore, the agency will not have a need to return your call or to follow-up on your report. Managing expectations regarding your claims will help you as you work to clear up all the problems resulting from this criminal act.
- This is often the case. However, this does not necessarily prevent the victim from being able to recover their money. In some cases, organizations, institutions, and even the credit reporting agencies may be liable for some of the damages you have incurred.
- You may want to contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association for a referral to an attorney who can litigate on your behalf. Often times you can find private attorneys that will offer their initial consultations at no cost or obligation.
Instructions & Forms
Instructions & Forms
Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.
These instructions explain what to do if your identity is stolen.
a. Pull your credit report from all three agencies. You can do this online at each agency’s website.
b. Get 4 folders, large envelopes, or other containers in which to keep documents.
c. Label one folder “Originals.” Of course, in this file you will keep the originals of all materials you compile. DO NOT SEND YOUR ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS TO ANYONE. Keep them safe and in a place you will remember.
d. Label one folder “Copies.” And of course, in this file you will keep all copies of anything relevant to your ID theft/financial fraud case, except the copies you will have in your “Evidence” file.
e. In the next folder/file, you will label it “ID Theft Evidence.” In this file you will have all the copies of documentation you have compiled from your investigation of the theft. REMEMBER – ORIGINALS WILL NOT GO IN THIS FOLDER. KEEP ALL ORIGINALS IN THE FILE MARKED “ORIGINALS.
f. In the last folder, mark it “Time/Expenses.” You will need to keep track of your time and any out-of-pocket expenses. Put your receipts in this folder. Also, make a copy of the "Document" form, and regularly keep track of time and expenses. This will be helpful if you decide to proceed with a civil suit against the perpetrator.
g. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Know that clearing your credit history may take many months and hard work. It is time consuming.
h. Send all mail certified, return receipt requested. This is expensive, but worth it. When sending mail, keep a copy of the letter or mail you have sent for yourself. You will need to record the certified mail number on the copy you keep for yourself. When you have received the green postal service return card, you can clip it to your copy that matches the number. This way you can prove the letter was received by the appropriate party.
i. During calls, get a name and ID number, if possible. Be sure to record each call on a call log, identifying the name of the organization/institution you are calling, the customer service representative information, the date and time, and the nature of the call. Also, if there is a way for you to be able to follow up with that particular representative or to get email confirmation of what was discussed in the phone call, this will help you prove what happened in the event there is a dispute about what was said in the call.
j. Make copies of your Report, Investigate, Monitor, Document, and Dispute forms. Make as many copies as you need. Keep one handy at all times, in case someone returns a call, or you are able to work on getting information out in a place other than your home. From time to time, reconcile the information and put the originals in the “Originals” folder.
k. As mentioned earlier, keep track of your time and expenses using the Action.
In this file you will either gather or create or draft the following items:
a. Proof of who you are – make a copies of your driver’s license or government issued ID card, your social security card (make exactly 3 copies, put them one in each folder, and know exactly where each folder is), and recent utility bills with your name on them. This will help prove your address. (Put the original in the “Originals” folder, one in “Copies,” and one in “ID Theft Evidence”). You can also contact your utility company and ask for a printout proving your residence for the previous 5 years.
b. A timeline of events, which may span many years, that outlines in chronological order the crime – what are your actions, when did you find out this occurred, what have you done before today to sort out the crime or investigate.
c. The police report, if any. If there isn’t one, there will be. Do not report to law enforcement just yet, but once you have a report, a copy of the report will go here. AGAIN, PUT THE ORIGINAL IN THE FILE MARKED “ORIGINALS.”
e. Most recent report from all 3 agencies – if you have not done so, make this request this now. Keep the original of each report safely in the file marked “Originals.” Make sure you highlight or put a post-it on the front of each report with name of the agency and the date the report was pulled.
i. Equifax (800) 685-1111; www.equifax.com
ii. Experian (888) 397-3742, www.experian.com
iii. Transunion (800) 680-7289; www.transunion.com
g. Any evidence regarding the crime or the perpetrator.
h. All written or email communication with creditors, banks, financial institutions, or credit reporting companies.
i. Logs of phone conversations (see Step 1, g).
a. For federal victim rights: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft
b. For state victim rights: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/identitytheft
a. First print out the “Report” form.
b. Notify law enforcement. This step may feel overwhelming. It may make you feel more comfortable knowing that any law enforcement officer to whom you decide to report SHALL (meaning they have to) make a report. According to Article 2.29 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, “a peace officer to whom an alleged violation of Section 32.51, Penal Code, is reported shall make a written report to the law enforcement agency that employs the peace officer that includes the following information:
i. The name of the victim;
ii. The name of the suspect, if known;
iii. The type of identifying information obtained, possessed, transferred, or used in violation of section 32.51, Penal Code, and
iv. The results of any investigation.”
You also have a right to have this report taken at your home. If you receive resistance, be polite, but firm. Politely remind the officer that Chapter 2 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that an ID Theft report be taken at the place where the victim lives. Advise each entity that you will provide additional information as it becomes available.
You also have a right to a copy of that report. Be sure to write down the case/incident number from the officer at the time you report, as his full report will not be available to you, but it is the number you will use to retrieve that report, once the officer has finished it.
c. Report to FTC. You can do this online at www.identitytheft.gov
i. You can also call 877-438-4338
ii. TYY: 866-653-4261
d. Report to credit agencies:
i. (This step may have already been taken when you pulled your credit reports. If not, do this now.)
ii. Now you have an incident report in the event you need one for these businesses.
iii. Each of the agencies has a responsibility to share their information with the other 2. This means you should only have to report the ID theft to one.
iv. You will have to report to Innovis separately.
v. At this time, request that a fraud alert be placed on your file. Also request that the first 5 numbers of your social security number be blocked from your credit report.
e. Report to U.S. Postal Inspector:
i. If you believe the U.S. Postal Service was used in stealing your identity, make a report to the U.S. Postal Inspector online at http://ehome.uspis.gov/mailtheft/idtheft.aspx.
ii. Or you can call 1-877-876-2455.
iii. Mail to Criminal Investigations Service Center, ATTN: MAIL FRAUD, 222 S. Riverside Plaza #1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100.
f. Texas DPS – If you think someone used your driver’s license or obtained a driver’s license using your information, complete a DPS affidavit and take it to your nearest DPS office.
i. DPS Affidavit Form
g. Social Security Administration – if you suspect your Social Security number has been misused. Here you can find out if a new number will be necessary.
i. Fraud Hotline (800) 269-0271
ii. (866) 501-2101 (TTY)
iii. P.O. Box 17785, Baltimore, MD 21235
i. EVEN IF YOU DON’T THINK THE ID THEFT IS RELATED TO YOUR TAXES, someone may be able to file a fraudulent return using your social security number. Report to IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit (800) 908-4490.
ii. Fill out and send in the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit
a. Use the “Investigate” form.
b. Review your last few bank or financial account statements, your credit card bills, and credit reports. Mark the activity or accounts that do not belong to you. Record information about fraudulent activity or accounts in the form.
c. As you find out more information, consider whether or not you need to report to another government agency or authority, or whether you should add information to an open report or investigation to an agency with whom you have already reported.
a. This process can be lengthy, so set reasonable expectations for what you can accomplish each day. Record your progress on the DISPUTE form.
b. First, write down the physical/mailing address information for disputes for each of the credit reporting agencies and any creditor, debt collector, and financial institution associated with each account fraudulently used in your name.
c. Remember to send each letter Certified Mail/Return Receipt Requested.
i. Each time you mail off a letter, you should have 2 additional copies of exactly what you have sent. One will need to be in the “Originals” file and one in the “Copies” file. When you receive the little green card proving the mail has been received, make a copy of it. Attach the original to the corresponding letter in your Originals file. Then attach a copy of it to the corresponding letter in your Copies file.
ii. Also, be sure to log the expense of mailing these letters. Put each receipt in your Time/Expenses folder and document it in the “DOCUMENT” form.
iii. Remember: keep track of time. Did you spend 15 minutes in line at the post office? Write it down and keep track of it in your “Time/Expense” folder.
d. In each letter, you will request that each fraudulent account be closed and removed from your credit report. You will also request a copy of all applications or business transaction records relating to your identity theft (the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to receive this information). You will need the information in your ID Theft Evidence file that proves who you are:
i. Include a copy of your driver’s license or government issued ID card.
ii. Include a copy of your ID Theft report from FTC or law enforcement.
iii. Include your ID Theft affidavit.
iv. List out each fraudulent item on your report.
v. Include a business records affidavit (if possible).
e. If you follow this procedure, the credit reporting companies MUST remove fraudulent accounts from your credit report within 4 days, unless they open an investigation and can prove the account was your own. Each creditor must send you copies of their records regarding accounts and transactions that are the result of the ID theft. Form letters are provided here.
f. If you include the business records affidavit, and someone decides to prosecute the offender, the information you receive from the institutions to whom you write will be admissible in court without testimony.
a. Starting a year from the date in which you requested each credit report, request another report. But this time, begin to stagger your requests. Since there are 3 major credit reporting agencies, request a copy from a different agency every 3-4 months so that you can continuously monitor your credit throughout the year.
b. Consistently review bank statements (monthly) and dispute fraudulent items as soon as you discover them.
c. As always, keep an accurate record of all people and businesses that contact you regarding your identity theft and flag any “follow-up” contacts you need to make.
d. As always, keep a log of all the letters you send and any phone conversations you have. You can use the “Monitor” form for help.
a. Be aware that sometimes the best potential for recovery of lost assets is through a civil suit. Consult with a civil attorney who works for victims of financial fraud. The attorney would best analyze the particular facts and circumstances surrounding each person’s potential case.
b. Consider calling the National Crime Victim Bar Association for a list of referrals to attorneys who may be able to help you.
i. (202) 467-8716.
c. Many states have laws that allow the victim to sue the identity thief directly.
d. A business or organization who has failed to properly secure your personal information may be held liable if the perpetrator used that information to steal your identity.
e. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit reporting agencies may be required to pay damages to victims for failing to add an identity theft annotation to the victim’s credit report.
a. Watch your trash – shred documents with an account number or personal identifying information before you recycle them (e.g. bills, account statements, bank statements, tax returns, and credit card offers).
b. Watch your mail – Install a mailbox that locks, if possible, so that thieves may not steal your mail. When you go out of town, contact your post office and ask that your mail be held until your return.
c. Consider a credit freeze – It makes your credit report unavailable for viewing by potential creditors unless you take steps to “thaw” it. It will take time to “thaw” a freeze, so be sure to understand the consequences of a freeze before you do it, and know exactly what you will need to do and how long it will take to thaw the freeze for each reporting agency.
i. This can cost money – again, keep track of any time and money spent to protect your ID.
ii. Send your request for a freeze by certified mail/return receipt requested.
iii. Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.
iv. Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
v. Trans Union Security Freeze, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022-2000.
d. Opt out of credit card offers:
i. Visit www.optoutprescreen.com and follow the online instructions. Or you can call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).
ii. Get on the federal “no call” list. Visit www.donotcall.gov. You may register both your home and cell phone numbers. After your telephone numbers have been placed in the registry for 31 days, most telemarketers should not call you. Charities, political organizations and business with whom you currently do business are exempt and are allowed to contact you in some cases unless you specifically ask them not to.
e. Surf Safely:
i. Protect email and other online accounts with passwords. Do not use passwords that are easily guessed (e.g., your name your birthdate, or your telephone number). Do not keep a list of passwords on or near your computer. Do not open or respond to emails UNLESS you know the sender. Do not respond to emails asking for passwords or personal information.
Report fraudulent/identity theft problems with these instructions and chart.
Use this chart to detail your identity theft related expenses.
Use form to request a new driver’s license or identification number when that information has been used fraudulently.
Use this form to report identity theft issues to law enforcement and credit reporting agencies.
Use this chart to detail account information for accounts that have been used fraudulently.
Use this form to tell the IRS about a fraudulent income tax return or fraudulent use of your identity generally.
Use this chart to detail follow-up actions you take after you discover your personal information was used fraudulently.
Use to report/track contacts with various identity theft related organizations. Includes addresses and phone numbers.
Complete and submit to the court. Asks judge to consider business records as evidence in a lawsuit.
Sample letters you can use to report identity theft fraud to credit reporting agencies, businesses, and bill collectors.