Identity Theft: What You Need to Know To Protect Yourself
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Identity Theft - Don't Have An Identity Crisis

To make your life after bankruptcy a successful one, you will need to rebuild your credit. This means paying your bills on time, developing more responsible money management skills, and eventually establishing new sources of credit to buy the things you need and get the fresh start guaranteed to you under your federal and state bankruptcy law.

In your efforts to rebuild your credit, you will undoubtedly submit various applications for credit-both through the mail and electronically-containing confidential and sensitive financial and personal information. In doing so, you have to be careful not to fall victim to one of today's fastest growing crimes: identity theft.

What is identity theft?

Simply put, identity theft occurs when a person steals your identity in order to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves do this by secretly obtaining vital personal information about you, such as your social security number, birth date, and credit card/bank account numbers. What do they do with your identity? Just about anything they want. Identity thieves can use your identity to obtain driver's licenses, credit cards, bank accounts and other legal documents under your name but for their own benefit. In fact, identity thieves have been known to even buy cars, houses, and get married under false names.

Identity theft is not simply the work of secretive computer hackers. In fact, most identity theft still occurs off-line. Thieves go through your garbage or steal your mail to obtain your personal information. They even intercept conversations during your cell phone calls. Unfortunately, with all of the improvements in technology come corresponding improvements in thieves' ability to steal your identity.

Why do I need to worry about identity theft?

Everyone needs to worry about identity theft. Billions of dollars are stolen from unsuspecting victims annually. In fact, a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that as many as 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2003-a number that will surely increase in coming years.

If you are emerging from bankruptcy, you need to be extra cautious about identity theft. First, you probably don't have much extra cash lying around available for someone to steal. Second, the repercussions of identity theft are very difficult to correct. The problems with your credit report can take years to fix. In the meantime, you could lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes you didn't commit. When you're starting to rebuild your credit, this is the last thing you need.

How can I tell if I have been a victim of identity theft?

Unfortunately, no alarm goes off to warn you that you have been a victim of identity theft. Typically, you won't find out that you have been victimized until long after the theft has occurred. When you do finally find out, the thief may have used your personal information to open a number of phony credit accounts in your name and purchased thousands of dollars in goods and services, leaving you with the bill for it all.

The best way to find out if you have been victimized by identity theft is to make a habit of periodically reviewing your credit report. In fact, as we discuss in detail in the life after bankruptcy section of our site, becoming familiar with your credit report and making sure it is accurate is one of the most important things you can do to rebuild your credit after your bankruptcy. By periodically checking your credit report with the three big credit bureaus TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, you can spot attempts to open up fraudulent accounts in your name and then take quick corrective action if necessary. Time is of the essence.

Am I liable for debts identity thieves run up in my name?

Federal credit fraud law protects you in these situations. The law provides that creditors who wrongly extend credit to identity thieves are responsible for collecting these debts from the identity thief who duped them. Typically, creditors will then write off the loss for lack of their ability to collect, but the headaches you'll deal with in the meantime, warrant strict care in preventing yourself from becoming a victim.

What should I do if I've been a victim of identity theft?

If you have been victimized by identity thieves, you should take the following steps as soon as possible:

  • File a police report. File a police report with your local police department and keep a copy for your records. Your creditors may require a police report for you to prove your claim. Also, fill out an FTC fraud affidavit and show it to your creditors.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. The FTC is the federal government agency that investigates identity theft. You can contact the FTC to report identity theft at 877-ID-THEFT, and you can even file a complaint on-line from their website, which is located at
  • Notify the big three credit bureaus. Contact the fraud departments of TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and request that they place a fraud alert on your records. This requires merchants to seek your explicit verbal or written approval before granting any new credit in your name.
  • Close accounts and notify your banks, creditors, and utilities. Close down all of the accounts that have been used by identity thieves. Also, change all passwords and PIN numbers for your accounts even if they were unaffected. Notify all your existing creditors and let them know of your situation.

When you're emerging from bankruptcy and beginning your fresh start, the last thing you need is a bad credit record and thousands of dollars in bills for things you never bought. This could happen if you fall prey to identity thieves. If you follow these tips, however, you may be able to prevent identity theft from occurring in the first instance, or minimize its effects once it occurs.

To find out more about identity theft, or to talk to a bankruptcy attorney about your bankruptcy options, please don't hesitate to call us toll free at 877-349-1309, or use our free online case evaluation form to get in touch with an attorney you.

To learn more about bankruptcy, you can read about Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, and whether bankruptcy is right for you.

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