Identity theft is now the top-reported form of crime in the United States. This crime occurs when someone acquires key pieces of another person’s identifying information – such as name, Social Security number, date of birth or financial information – in order to impersonate that person and commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves may use your information to open a credit card or open a new wireless account — wracking up charges in your name.
The information on this site is intended to help Montanans protect themselves from identity thieves — and how to recover if he or she has been victimized. The Office of Consumer Protection operates Montanan’s Identity Theft Passport Program. This program helps victims prove to creditors and law enforcement officials that someone has committed fraud using their identity. More information on the program can be found below.
- Freeze your credit files with the three major credit bureaus so no one can access them without your permission. For further information, see the Security Freeze page.
- Never give bank or credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call and know the business to be reputable.
- Never respond to e-mail or pop-up messages asking you to confirm or verify account information, even if it looks official. Instead, call the customer service number listed on the company’s billing statement to check an account.
- Remove extra information from your checks. Information like your Social Security number and date of birth should be guarded. If a merchant requires them, consider paying with cash or credit card, or doing business elsewhere.
- Shred or destroy any documents that contain personal identifying information before you dispose of them. Always shred prescriptions, receipts, bank deposit slips, pay stubs, expired credit cards, insurance policies and credit card applications.
- Opt out of pre-screened credit card offers by calling (888) 5-OPTOUT (567-8688). This will not prevent you from getting a loan or credit card.
- Review your bank and credit card statements as soon as you get them.
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year and check it carefully for fraudulent accounts. You are entitled to a free copy once every 12 months.
- Read and understand privacy and security policies before providing any personal information on Internet sites. Shop online only if the site is secure.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts and avoid using easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Keep a record of whom you call and when. It is very important to keep good notes of all conversations and records of all correspondence with your financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, including a log of the names, dates and phone numbers of people you contacted. You also should confirm the information in writing. Sending your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, provides you with a record of your correspondence.
- Report the theft of your identity to your local law enforcement agency. Ask for a copy of the police report, and to have your case entered into the NCIC Identity Theft File. Credit card companies and financial institutions may require you to show a copy of this report to verify the crime. Keep the phone number of your investigator and provide it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus. Ask that they put a security freeze or a fraud alert on your account and send you a free credit report. A security freeze will stop someone else getting new credit in your name. See the Security Freeze page for detailed instructions on requesting a freeze of your credit files. A fraud alert is a special message you can have placed on your credit report. When a credit issuer checks your credit rating, the alert indicates that there may be fraudulent activity on your account. While a fraud alert may slow down issuing new credit, it does not stop it.
- Major Credit Bureaus:
Equifax – P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 – (800) 525-6285 – www.equifax.com
Experian – P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013 – (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742) – www.experian.com
TransUnion – Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022-2000 – (800) 680-7289 – www.transunion.com
- Complete an Identity Theft Passport application and return it to the law enforcement agency you reported the crime to in Step 2. Remember to include a copy of your driver’s license. Law enforcement will send the completed form to the Montana Identity Theft Passport Program.
- Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission and complete an FTC ID Theft Affidavit. Don’t mail it to the FTC – see Step 7.
Federal Trade Commission – (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338) or TTY: (866) 653-4261 – www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft
- Mail copies of the following to all three credit bureaus and to all creditors and collection agencies showing or collecting the fraudulent charges:
- the FTC ID Theft Affidavit
- the police report
- your Identity Theft Passport (if you have one)
- a letter disputing the fraudulent charges
The dispute letter must do all of the following:
- identify you
- indicate which accounts are disputed
- affirmatively state that you had nothing to do with the charges on the accounts
- request that the accounts be blocked from your credit report
Sample dispute letters are available for:
- existing credit accounts
- credit bureaus
- Notify all financial institutions you have an account with that you are a victim of identity theft. Change your account numbers and passwords. For any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the billing inquiries and security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Close these accounts. Use passwords – not your mother’s maiden name or other personal information that may have been stolen – on any new accounts opened. Confirm your contact in writing. Ask that old accounts be processed as “account closed at consumer’s request,” not “card lost or stolen.” When the latter is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss. Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills and immediately report any new fraudulent activity to credit grantors.
- Request a copy of your federal criminal history record. The application is available online from the FBI, or you can request the form from the ID Theft Passport Program, (406) 444-3728.
- Check your credit report with all three credit bureaus at least every three months until the matter is resolved. If you have properly placed a fraud alert on your accounts (see Step 3), you should be entitled to two additional free credit reports a year from each credit bureau for the duration of the fraud alert.
- Pay any portion of a bill that is legitimate, but DO NOT pay charges you are disputing. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you as a result of identity theft. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don’t allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills. Report such attempts to the Office of Consumer Protection or the FTC immediately.
Identity Theft Passport Program
An Identity Theft Passport is designed to help victims prove to creditors and law enforcement officers that someone has used their identity to commit fraud.
Through no fault of their own, victims of identity theft are forced to spend a considerable amount of time and money undoing the damage done to their good names and credit records. The wallet-sized passport is designed to help victims prove who they are and limit the cost and stress they experience.
To qualify for a passport, identity theft victims must file a police report with a Montana law enforcement agency and present a completed Identity Theft Passport application with a photo ID to the investigating agency. Once the complaint has been verified by law enforcement, the agency faxes or mails to Montana’s Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services:
- a copy of the completed investigation report
- the Identity Theft Passport application, signed by the victim and the officer
- a copy of the victim’s driver license or other official form of photo identification
Once the victim and law enforcement have provided all of the necessary information, the passport should be issued within 10 working days. Passports expire after three years.
The passport application and supporting documentation is confidential criminal justice information. Law enforcement agencies and creditors have discretion in accepting an identity theft passport. The passport simply indicates that the agency or company should take into consideration that the individual is a victim of identity theft.
A security freeze is one of the most effective ways to prevent identity theft. By putting a security freeze on their credit files, Montanans can prevent those files from being shared with potential creditors. See MCA 30-14-1726 to 1736. A security freeze allows consumers to proactively “lock up” their credit information so no one can access it without their permission. This prevents a thief from falsely using someone else’s identity to take out a new mortgage, apply for a credit card or get financing.The freeze is easily lifted if consumers plan to make a major purchase, open a new credit card or take out a loan.
A security freeze will not:
- lower your credit score
- prevent you from getting your own credit report
- stop credit card companies from sending you pre-approved credit offers. To stop most pre-approved credit offers, call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or go online to www.optoutprescreen.com. You can choose to opt out for five years or permanently.
A freeze will prevent an employer from getting your credit report as part of a background check. You have to lift the freeze to allow a complete background check, just as you do to apply for credit.
It costs $3 to place a security freeze on your credit files with a credit bureau, for a total of $9 to freeze your files with all three credit bureaus. For a security freeze to be effective for married couples, both spouses have to freeze their separate credit files. The total cost for a couple is $18. There is no fee for identity theft victims who have filed a police report of identity theft to freeze their files. To have a freeze temporarily lifted also costs $3 per credit bureau. There is no fee to permanently remove a security freeze.
To place a security freeze on your credit files, you must write to each of the three credit bureaus. You may use this security freeze form letter or create your own letter.
- Provide identifying information including, at a minimum, your name, address and Social Security number.
- Pay the $3 security freeze fee by check or credit card, unless you are an identity theft victim. If you are a victim, provide a copy of the police report of identity theft.
- For a security freeze to be effective for married couples, both spouses have to freeze their separate credit files, via separate letters requesting the freeze. The total cost for a couple is $3 x 3 credit bureaus x 2 people = $18.
- Send separate letters to each of the three credit bureaus. For married couples, both spouses must request to freeze their credit files via separate request letters:Equifax Security Freeze – P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348 – (800) 525-6285
Experian Security Freeze – P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 – (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion Security Freeze – P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022-2000 – (800) 680-7289
- The credit bureaus must place the freeze on your files within five business days of receiving your written request. If you are a victim of identity theft, they must place the freeze within 24 hours of getting the police report and information confirming your identity.
- Each of the credit bureaus will send you written notice that the freeze is in place within five days of it going into effect. This confirmation will include a Personal Identification Number (PIN) and instructions on how to lift or remove the freeze.
To open a new credit account, take out a new loan or allow a background check, consumers need to temporarily lift the security freeze on their credit files. It can be lifted for a specific period of time or for a specific creditor.
- Contact each of the credit bureaus by phone and use your Personal Identification Number (PIN).
- Specify whether you want to temporarily lift the freeze for a specific date range or creditor.
- Pay the $3 lift fee to each credit bureau.
The credit bureaus must lift a freeze no later than three business days after receiving your request.
When a file is protected by a security freeze, a creditor who requests that file will get a message or a code indicating that the file is frozen. However, when you have a security freeze on your credit file, certain entities can still access it.
- Your report can still be released to your existing creditors or to collection agencies acting on their behalf. They can use it to review or collect on your account.
- Other creditors may also use your information to make offers of credit, unless you opt out of receiving such offers.
- Government agencies may access your report for collecting child support payments or taxes, or for investigating Medicaid fraud. Government agencies may also access it in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena or a search warrant.
A Fraud Alert:
- is a special message that people who suspect they may be identity theft victims can have placed on the report a credit issuer receives when it checks a consumer’s credit rating
- tells the credit issuer there may be fraudulent activity on an account
- can help protect consumers against identity theft
- can slow your ability to get new credit, but does not stop you from using existing credit cards or other accounts
A fraud alert is not the same as a security freeze. While a fraud alert may slow down issuing new credit, it does not stop it. A security freeze will stop someone else getting new credit in your name.
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, also has a variety of resources available at its website. The agency also produces many reputable publications. Here are a few:
Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen is a handbook with tips about protecting your information, along with instructions, sample forms and letters to help you recover from identity theft.
Safeguarding Your Child’s Future is a guide to help parents and guardians protect a child’s information and repair damage caused by identity theft.
Identity Theft: What To Know, What To Do is an easy-to-copy brochure covering the basics of how to avoid and respond to identity theft.
Contact the Program
Office of Consumer Protection
P.O. Box 200151
Helena, MT 59620-0151
Phone: (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500
Fax: (406) 442-2174