If I get a letter, what should I do?
Follow ChoicePoint's directions carefully -- and then take added steps to protect your accounts. First, place a fraud alert on your reports at the three credit bureaus as ChoicePoint directs. That alert will direct creditors to contact you before granting any credit request, but it hasn't always guaranteed that they will. The alert will also prompt the three credit bureaus to offer you a free copy of your credit report. Accept the offers and examine the reports closely to see if fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name, and look for inquiries made about your credit. "If you live in the District, and a Mississippi car dealer is puling your credit record, that's obviously a red flag," said Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times and author of "Credit Scores & Credit Reports."
Data collection firm ChoicePoint Inc. inadvertently sold 145,000 personal information reports to fraud artists involved in an identity theft scheme.
(John Bazemore -- AP)
What do I do if I see a suspicious account or inquiry on my credit report?
Visit the Federal Trade Commission Web site, www.consumer.gov/
idtheft_old/index.html and obtain the affidavit credit bureaus require to place a long-term fraud alert on your account (the fraud alert triggered by your initial call lasts only 90 days). Fill out the form, and ask the police to file a report. Send the affidavit, police report and copies of any pertinent data to the credit bureau by certified mail with a return receipt. Keep records of all correspondence and extend the fraud alert to seven years.
If there are fraudulent accounts set up in your name, also send copies of the affidavit, police report and related material to the company that set up the account and ask it to clear your name. Although you are not liable for the thief's purchases, overdue accounts could affect your credit rating.
If I don't see any questionable activity, can I quit worrying?
Absolutely not. "Identity thieves are getting smarter, and they might put the information on a shelf for a few months and not use it until the heat is off," said Givens. ChoicePoint is offering affected consumers a year's free monitoring service to notify them whenever an inquiry or new account is made. Definitely use the free monitoring service -- and consider paying for it after the year is up.
Once my credit report is cleaned up, can I quit monitoring it?
No. Because the entire reporting system is automated, the fraudulent reports sometimes have a way of reappearing on a credit history. So keep reviewing your credit history.