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Advice about Crime

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What to Do about a Stolen Wallet

July 1999

Can anyone advise me on what steps to take to protect my credit? My wallet, containing my social security card as well as my driver's license, was stolen two nights ago at Barnes and Noble. The thief made a series of charges on my credit card account. I've made a police report, closed all credit accounts, filled out bank affidavits of fraud etc., but am worred about identity fraud. With a social security number, a criminal can open a credit card account in another person's name and charge it to the limit.

I have been advised that I should contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union), and have already sent written notification to all three, asking that a fraud alert be put on my credit report. I wonder if there are any other steps that I can or should take. Has anyone else been through this?


I have been through this and it's a nightmare. Be sure you close all checking accounts; open new ones at a DIFFERENT bank to prevent the bank from trying to attack your new account to recover from fraud (that's what happened to me). This is especially important if you had any unused checks or deposit slips, paychecks or even a check you had written to someone else (e.g. to pay a bill) in your wallet. Even without a check, an industrious thief (and they are!) can call around to banks, give your name and social security number and check whether you have an account there. Then drain it.

The thief will most likely put a false photo on your driver's license and impersonate you at banks. With a social security card, they may be able to open an account and overdraw it immediately. It will be done at remote locations where no one could know you. That's the bank's problem, but they'll still try to go after you. You can go to the DMV and get a NEW driver's license. Not a copy, but a new one with a new number. You'll need the police report and either a bank or credit card report of fraud. They won't just give you a new number unless you can show fraud. But that's what you need to prevent them using your driver's license as an ID. Call the DMV first and check on it.

Contact social security to check on your account there also. I'm sure they have some steps for you to take (didn't have my social card stolen).

You did the right thing in alerting the credit bureaus. You'll need to be prepared to have your own, legitimate requests for credit rejected because the credit bureaus are not completely efficient and neither are banks, stores etc. It will take some doing to get credit (even for a mortgage).

Be sure to carry with you copies of all the police reports and any bank/credit statements saying accounts are closed because if the thief perpetrates fraud with your name, YOU could be arrested (eg during a traffic stop when they check you out for outstanding warrants).

This can go on for several years. Be diligent and you'll win (I did get my $5,000 back!).


It sounds like you've done everything that I know of to do. I had my credit identity stolen 5 years ago, and luckily I caught it because a call came through to me asking for my correct address. The people stealing my identity had gotten a Macy's card, a Spiegal card, a Penny's card, and a bank card in my name, and managed to get the address information on my credit files changed to their address, so they were getting all sorts of solicitations for credit, which they duly filled out and sent in. The only people that checked before issuing a card, and realized it was probably fraud, was American Express - and that was only because a call got put through to me at work by mistake. Luckily I caught it early enough that not very much had been charged. There are a couple of things I feel I should be doing (and have not done) which recommend to you. I think it's a good idea to get at least a yearly report to be sure everything looks correct. I was told that the warning is only good for 7 years, so I think I'm going to try to renew it at that time. I don't know if this will be a problem. Also - I'm not sure that people are checking with me - as far as I can tell it's up to the credit issuer to call based on the warning. I've only gotten one call - from a spring water company - and they didn't sign me up because they couldn't reach me right away - I had to call back and ask what the problem was. I didn't deal with one of the credit bureaus because it wasn't affected, which was probably a mistake. They are supposed to check with each other and have the same information, but I found that not to be true. Meanwhile we've refinanced our house and gotten a number of new credit cards - and I haven't heard a peep. So I'm not sure how well the warning works. It is very scary - the that stole my identity were caught because the federal protective service was involved and was able to spend time on the case because the fraud was the result of someone misusing information they obtained from being employed by the U.S. Govt. They told me that if it appeared that information wasn't taken from that source, they would have to drop the case, and local law enforcement were unlikely to give me any help. Maybe things have changed, since this is getting onto 60 minutes, and has a higher profile now. Anyway - it's great that you took all those steps. I don't know of anything else to do.
My sister had her purse stollen 2 years ago fro a restuarant at
Jack London Square and is STILL dealing with it.  If you are lucky, your
wallet was stollen by a small time thief and not someone working for a
major ring.  Below is a list of some steps that you can take:

* You will need to contact ALL three credit services and ask that a note
be added to your record indicating the theft and that all new credit
applications need to be verified with a phone call to you.  This will help
if the business actually contacts the credit services before issuing
credit. You may also want to inquire if you can add a password or
something in the event that you find yourself at a store trying to open
credit.  You can't very well be at home to receive an authorisation call
in such an instance.  Unfortunately, such companies as Target, Mervyn's,
Speigel's, most mail order catalogs and so-called discounted stores may
not check with the credit agengie before offering instant credit.

*  You should get copies of your credit report from all three agencies
about every three months to check on who's been making inquiries into your
account and who has issued credit.  Contact these people and inform them
of the fraud.  If any charges were made against the new credit account,
ask the credit issuer if they would be willing to write a letter detailing
the fraud.  Make sure they include the driver's license number that was
used for verification.  You will need this to prove fraud to the DMV
before they will seal your old license number and issue a brand new one.

*  You will need to request DMV records since they can now get
insurance under your name and license number.

*   Since they also have your social security number, you will need to
check your social security account frequently to see if they have used it 
to obtain work.  For my sister this was easy since she is a teacher and 
has not contributed to SS for nearly 10 years.

*   When you do get your credit reports, ask that any address/es that
was/were used to have new credit cards and merchandise sent to, be removed
from your reports.  Too many addresses make you look unstable and prone to
move around a lot.  This could be used against you when you legitimately
want to apply for credit such as for a mortgage.

* Remember to be vigilant with your credit reports.  Any bad reports made
for none payment or for overdue accounts that were open fraudently must be
removed from your report.  If the credit reporting agencies refuse, at the
very least, make sure they annotate the record as an account that was
fraudulently opened and used.  (So far my sister has been very lucky in
having all negative reports removed.)

*   If you had a check stolen, close your account and ask that a note be
placed indicating the reason for the closure.  If you have outstanding
checks out, you will need to leave some funds to cover those checks.  If
the thief decides to have new checks printed (as they did with my sister)
be prepared for nasty, threatening letters demanding payment.

* Make and keep very many copies of the police report, letters from the
credit reporting agencies, DMV confirming the theft.  You will want to
keep a file of all of the letters that you receive regarding fraudulent
use of your credit.  Better yet, keep a separate file for each account
which includes all of the information--when you sent them your
information, their response, etc.  A good idea is to maintain a calendar
of the theft and the activites against your accounts, dates when credit
was issued, dates when you sent letters explaining the situation, dates
when you will need to request credit reports.  If you do, you may see if
and when the activity tapers off.

*  As difficult as all of this sounds, you will need to be organised and
proactive.  The police, while they may be very sympathetic, will do
precious little.  They will not prosecute for fraud unless the credit card
companies and the merchants who were ripped-off press charges.  Although
it is your credit that it is at risk, from the police point of view, it is
the credit card companies and merchants--and not YOU-- that are the
victims of fraud.  Unfortunatly, most credit card companies and merchants
just write off the loss since they write if off their taxes or may be
reimbursed by their insurance.

*  Finally, take a deep breath and try to relax.  Hopefully, your
situation will not be as bad as my sister's.  But do brace yourself--you
may receive threatening letters from attorneys demanding payment.
Remember, under the law you are not liable for more than $50.00 of
fraudulent charges if you report the theft within three days of the
occurance--which you have done already.  And most credit card companies 
do not even pursue the $50.00.  Unfortunately, you may have to remind some
of these people that you are the victim.

Good luck.  I hope this has helped and not frightened you more.  I can
greatly sympathesize, especially after watching my sister and
mother-in-law deal with it simultaneously.  

Last night, Lifetime aired a piece on stolen identities. Please check ou the list of things to do in such event at: http://www.lifetimetv.com/onair/shows/na/frameset.shtml/daily.html as well as this web site: http://www.identitytheft.org/ Good luck!
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