With respect to last week's opening salvo about identity theft, what should we do once Carl Crooked's wicked fangs are tangled up in our informational jugular?
1. First of all, immediately contact your identity theft service, if you subscribe to one. (More about these services next week.)
2. Secondly (or first, if you're not a subscriber), contact one of the Big Three credit reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The agency you contact then will file with the other two on your behalf, saving you a much-needed couple of steps in this long process. Once you place that fraud alert, you're entitled to order free copies. (Experian 800-397-3742; Equifax 800-685-1111; and TransUnion 800-916-8800)
3. File reports with local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).
4. Submit complaints and questions to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint. Contact banks, credit card issuers, and other creditors.
5. Follow up with copies of written documentation, sent certified mail, return receipt requested to provide a trail. (You can also email IF it's simply another form of documentation and not the primary source.) Keep the originals of all documents. For creditors who require additional paperwork, ask if they'll accept the FTC's ID Theft Affidavit, available on www.ftc.gov.
6. The Identity Theft Assistance Center (www.identitytheftassistance.org) provides free victim assistance for customers of companies that support the organization.
7. Look for free counseling advice for victims at the Identity Theft Council (www.identitytheftcouncil.org).
8. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides free advice and assistance. Additionally, its Document Catalog offers form letters to help repair the damage from both adult and child ID theft.
9. Go online -- again -- to www.ftc.gov/ where the Federal Trade Commission provides all kinds of free information for victims, including how to take charge of the situation and deal with any problems that arise. Resources include videos and specific guides.
10. The IRS (www.irs.gov) advises about the ways thieves use your ID to impersonate you for employment purposes/tax records.
11. The Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov) offers tips about what to do if your Social Security number is stolen.
12. Check into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov); it tells us what to do if thieves steal personal info in order to get medical services.
13. File with state protection agencies. In Tennessee, call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-342-8385; in Georgia, call 800-869-1123; and in Alabama, call 800-392-5658.
14. If necessary, open new financial accounts; be sure each new password is created randomly with a string of letters, numbers, and symbols or with a sentence password but using only the first letters/symbols. (For example, 'Fred and Wilma Flintstone have a daughter, Pebbles,' thus becomes F&WFHAD,P.) Avoid your mom's maiden name, your birthdate, the last four digits of your Social, or any consecutive numbers.
15. You may also need to replace your driver's license or other government-issued ID. Ask that agency to flag your file so no one else can get a license or identification from the organization.
To be continued ...
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. E-mail her at consume firstname.lastname@example.org.