Taking Your Life Back After Identity Theft

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Identity theft is a crime that shows no sign of going away, especially as new wireless technologies and the Internet become increasingly tied to our daily routines. More than 700,000 people in the U.S. are victims each year.

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Although the effects of identity theft are often disastrous and sometimes seemingly permanent, if you are a victim there are steps you should take immediately to prevent further losses. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends:

Reporting the crime to the fraud departments of each of the major credit bureaus: Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; ; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, Ga., 30374-0241; Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742);; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Texas, 75013; TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; ; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, Calif., 92834-6790.

Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and that the credit bureau contact you before opening new accounts in your name. Once you are under alert, you are entitled to order free copies of your credit reports. Ask that only the last four digits of your Social Security number appear on those copies.

Close any accounts that you know or think have been compromised. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company and follow up with that person in writing and include copies (never originals) of relevant documents. Always notify credit-card companies and banks in writing, sending your letters by certified mail with a return receipt. Maintain a dated file of all your correspondences.

File a report with the local police where the theft occurred. If you do not know, call your local police department. Get a copy of the report for your files, in case your bank, credit-card company or insurance company asks for proof.

Also file a complaint with the FTC. Call the FTC's Identity Theft hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).