Louise found out she was a victim of Identity Theft when she opened her mail. "I had never heard of Nextel until I got a letter from them. The cell phone company claimed she owed them more than $2000. But Louise doesn't have a cell phone.
"I told them that I had never gotten a phone from them and I wasn't going to pay them, Louise says. Apparently, someone used Louise's social security number to open a fraudulent account in her name.
"They also said I was born in 1974 and I said well thank you, that's a compliment, because I was born in 1924," laughed Louise.
Assistant Alabama Attorney General Jeff Long says clearing up a problem like this can be a long and frustrating journey. That's why he says the best thing to do is prevent it from happening in the first place, by guarding your social security number.
"The basic rule of thumb is not to give people who call or e-mail your personal information. Make certain YOU initiated the contact and you know who you're talking to."
Louise is still trying to get her credit report straightened out, but thankfully, she's no longer responsible for that $2000 bill. And she says that she's learned a valuable lesson. "I made one mistake giving out something that I shouldn't have, but I've gotten it straight," she says.
If you find you're a victim of ID theft, there are several specific steps you should take.
- File a police report. Whether or not the cops catch the criminal, you'll need a report to prove to the creditor that a crime has been committed.
- Contact the creditor and ask them to start an investigation. Tell them you're sending them the police report.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus so they too can begin the process of removing the fraudulent accounts. You might also ask them about options designed to protect your credit in the future.
- Report the crime the Federal Trade Commission at 1-800-ID THEFT. They can also help you the above process.