I received a copy of my credit report and saw about a half dozen items that I didn’t know anything about. It’s affected my credit rating so badly that I couldn’t get a student loan. I didn’t realize there was a problem until my student loan application was denied.

From a consumer’s complaint to the FTC, May 25, 2004

While dealing with problems resulting from identity theft can be time consuming and frustrating, most victims can resolve their cases by being assertive, organized, and knowledgeable about their legal rights. Some laws require you to notify companies within specific time periods. Don’t delay in contacting any companies to deal with these problems, and ask for supervisors if you need more help than you’re getting.


Different laws determine your legal remedies based on the type of bank fraud you have suffered. For example, state laws protect you against fraud committed by a thief using paper documents, like stolen or counterfeit checks. But if the thief used an electronic fund transfer, federal law applies. Many transactions may seem to be processed electronically but are still considered “paper” transactions. If you’re not sure what type of transaction the thief used to commit the fraud, ask the financial institution that processed the transaction.


The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.

You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is “skimmed” – this is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.

If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen , report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.

* If you report the loss or theft within two business days of discovery, your losses are limited to $50.

* If you report the loss or theft after two business days, but within 60 days after the unauthorized electronic fund transfer appears on your statement, you could loss up to $500 of what the thief withdraws.

* If you wait more than 60 days to report the loss or theft, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days.

NOTE: Most card issuers voluntarily have agreed to limit or waive consumers’ liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card. Contact your card issuer for more information.

The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing – by certified letter, return receipt requested – so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.

After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of it’s investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation – but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.


In general, in an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex System, Inc., or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of “paper” transaction such as demand draft, state laws my protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care or your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.

You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:

* To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:

* TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188

* Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems) at 1-800-437-5120

* To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call:

*SCAN: 1-800-262-7771

If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver’s license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects your checks should give you it’s check verification company contact information so you can find out what information the thief is using. If you find that the thief is using your MICR code, ask your bank to close your checking account, and open a new one. If you discover that the thief is using your driver’s license number or some other identification number, work with your DMV or other identification issuing agency to get new identification with new numbers. Once you have taken the appropriate steps, your checks should be accepted.


*The check verification company may or may not remove the information about the MICR code or the driver’s license/identification number from its database because this information may help prevent the thief from continuing to commit fraud.

*If the checks are being passed on a new account, contact the bank to close the account. Also contact Chex Systems, Inc., to review your consumer report to make sure that no other bank accounts have been opened in your name.

*Dispute and bad checks passed in your name with merchants so they don’t start any collections actions against you.


If you have trouble opening a new checking account, it may be because an identity thief has been opening accounts in your name. Chex Systems Inc., produces consumer reports specifically about checking accounts, and as a consumer reporting company, is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can request a free copy of your consumer report by contacting Chex Systems, Inc. If you find inaccurate information on your consumer report, follow the proper procedures to follow up with and correct them. Contact each of the banks where account inquires were made, too. This will help ensure that any fraudulently opened accounts are closed.
RESOLVING SPECIFIC PROBLEMSI received a copy of my credit report and saw about a half dozen items that I didn't know anything about. It's affected my credit rating so badly that I couldn't get a student loan. I didn't realize there was a problem until my student loan application...