What is Identity Theft?
Identity Theft is the largest consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) annually. If you have been the victim of identity theft, it could mean someone has used your name to:
- Make purchases
- Get credit cards
- Rent an apartment
- Obtain utilities in your name, without your permission
In some cases, thieves may have received medical services in your name, re-routed your tax refund, or even impersonated you during contact with law enforcement.
Identity theft may also include someone using checks on your account. This could be from the following:
- Stealing your checkbook
- Obtaining remote access to your checking account.
- Use of a debit card or credit card that you did not approve is also identity theft.
In some cases, identity theft occurs within families. Within families, the victims are most frequently children, seniors, and domestic violence survivors. This kind of identity theft makes reporting and recovery especially difficult for victims.
How Might it Impact Me?
Even if you are able to resolve a financial identity theft issue with your bank, this use of your name and credit history can result in you getting collection letters for things you did not purchase.
It can also result in unfavorable entries on your credit report, causing you problems in getting credit or paying a higher interest rate.
Becoming the victim of an identity theft can be a complicated and frustrating time in your life.
What Can I Do?
First, report the crime to the police. You do not need to know the name of the person who used your identity. You show the police the debt collection letters or other confirmation that you are the victim of this crime.
Ask for a copy of the police report. The police report will be necessary to provide to creditors, banks, and agencies to demonstrate the identity theft.
Next, close and dispute credit or debit cards that were misused when your identity was stolen. If checking accounts were misused, make sure only the checks you wrote will be cleared and not the checks written by the identity thief.
The FTC has created sample letters that you can use to notify a debt collector or credit bureau that you have been a victim of identity theft. (To use the letters, you must first report the crime of identity theft to the police)
You may also create an identity theft recovery plan, including affidavits, on the FTC website to prove to companies where the thief misused your information, and state all inaccuracies on your credit report. This can be used to help police create the identity theft report.
The three forms below use the FTC-created material.
You can also visit the National Identity Theft Victims Assistance Network to learn more.
Before You Begin:
- The information provided and the interactive interviews will give you legal information, not legal advice.
- These forms are not for commercial use and charging for use in any way is prohibited.
- The completed form can be viewed and printed with Microsoft Word or Open Office.
- This material was produced in part by the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, Inc. under award #2010-VF-GX-K030, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, these materials including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided.
Letter to Creditor
To use the interactive interview for responding to someone collecting a bill that is in your name, but a bill you did not authorize, you will need a copy of the bill in hand when you start the interview.
You will also need to provide a copy of your proof of identity.
Click below to use the interactive interview for a Letter to a Creditor, directly collecting their own bill. One example is a credit card statement you received that contains charges you didn’t make or authorize. It can be any situation where your credit or identity was used without your permission.
Letter to Debt Collector
To use the interactive interview for responding to a company or law firm that is a Debt Collector, or collecting a bill that is in your name but you did not authorize, you will need a copy of the company's or law firm's letter in hand when you start the interview.
You will also need to provide a copy of your police report and proof of your identity, by copying these and putting them in the letter. Click below to use the interactive interview for a Letter to Debt Collector.
Letter to Credit Bureau
A letter to a credit bureau requests an investigation and asks the bureau to remove items from your credit report that are the result of identity theft. To use the interactive interview, you will need a copy of your credit report in hand when you start the interview.
You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau here. You do not have to pay for a copy of your credit report. One credit report from each company is available to you for free each year from annualcreditreport.com. An additional copy from each credit bureau is available to residents of Maryland. Instructions to obtain the additional copy are available from the Attorney General.
Finally, victims of identity theft are entitled to receive a free copy of their credit reports. These can be obtained by contacting the credit bureaus directly; these instructions are also available from the Attorney General.
After the interview, you will mail the letter and attachment, a copy of your credit report with the incorrect items circled, a copy of the police report you made of the identity theft and proof of your identity with the letter.
Click below to use the interactive interview for a Letter to a Credit Bureau.
Obtain an Identity Theft Passport
The Attorney General's Identity Theft Unit has tools available to help victims of identity theft address their problems, and to help all consumers protect themselves from identity thieves. One of the tools offered is an Identity Theft Passport. You may apply for an identity theft passport, which can be presented to law enforcement to help prevent arrest or detention for an offense committed by another person using the person’s personal identifying information. It may also be presented to a creditor to aid in the investigation of fraudulent accounts or charges.
File a police report
Identity theft is a crime. If you know or reasonably suspect that you have been a victim of identity fraud you may contact a local law enforcement agency in the county where you live or where the crime occurred to file a report. If you filed an Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC, give the police a copy to make it easier for them to write your Identity Theft Report. Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law §8-301, §8-304
Place a security freeze
All Maryland consumers are allowed to place security freezes on their consumer credit reports to prevent new accounts from being opened in their names. Such a freeze enables the consumer to prevent anyone from looking at his/her credit file for the purpose of granting credit unless the consumer chooses to allow a particular business to look at the information. Maryland law prohibits credit bureaus from charging a fee to freeze your credit report. Read the Law: Md. Code, Commercial Law, §14-1212.1
Tax Identification Number Theft
A Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) is a number used to identify you to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when filing your taxes. For individuals, this number may be your Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
When tax identification theft happens, an individual steals your Taxpayer Identification Number and uses it to file taxes in your name to obtain your refund. Typically, the identity thief will file early in the tax season to attempt and claim the return first. You will likely not be aware that this has happened until you file your tax return and receive an alert from the IRS that two returns have been filed under the same Taxpayer Identification number. It is likely that you have been the victim of tax identification number theft if you receive a letter from the IRS stating that:
- Two returns have been filed under your Taxpayer Identification Number;
- You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year that you didn’t file a tax return; or
- You receive information or a refund from the IRS for an employer that you did not work for.
If you receive correspondence from the IRS regarding any of the above matters, respond right away. Contact the individual listed on your letter and request an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). For more information, visit the IRS webpage for a Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, or call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4990.
Preventing Identity Theft
You can take steps to prevent identity theft. Do not carry your Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport on a regular basis. Shred documents with identifying information on them and change your passwords and pin numbers frequently for your bank account or information stored online. Review your credit card statements diligently, and request a copy of your credit report on an annual basis.
You may also check with companies to opt out of having your information shared for promotional purposes. For more information on opting out of this type of information sharing, visit www.ftc.gov. You also have the option to opt out of information sharing with both financial institutions and credit card reporting agencies to reduce the amount of unsolicited credit and insurance offers you receive for either a period of 5 years or permanently. Their toll-free number is 888-567-8688 and their website is www.optoutprescreen.com.
For more information about what you can do to protect your identity, visit Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, which offers offline and online security options as well as information on how to secure your Social Security number and devices.