What to Do When Your Identity is Stolen
Identity theft is a real risk and a big headache. Many victims find themselves confused and frustrated as they try to straighten out the mess that a fraudster has made with their financial situation. In order to alleviate this difficult situation, we’ve created a helpful guide for those facing identity theft. Read on to learn about the three R’s of recovering from identity theft.
Step one is to report the theft. There are several agencies and entities that you should contact in the wake of identity theft. You should reach out to the following:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – The FTC collects and compiles information regarding identity theft. Though the FTC cannot pursue criminal charges itself, law enforcement agencies frequently turn to the FTC for aid in tracking down fraudsters. Visit www.identitytheft.gov to file a report. Once you make your report, the FTC will create a personal recovery plan and an online account to walk you through each recovery step.
- Your local police department – If your identity was stolen by somebody local, the police department may be able to track them down. Unfortunately, if the thief operates online or internationally, there is little that the local police can do to help. Nonetheless, a police report is key because it creates a paper trail that you may need down the line.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – If you use your Social Security number to file your income tax returns, be sure to submit Form 14039 – Identity Theft Affidavit to the IRS.
- Your insurance provider – If you are insured against identity theft, be sure to reach out to your provider in the wake of the theft. Even if you don’t have dedicated identity theft insurance, check with your homeowner or other insurance plans to see if they include any coverage for identity theft.
After reporting the theft of your identity, it’s time to work on resolving issues created by the theft. Take the following steps to continue down the road of recovery:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports – This free service places a one-year fraud alert on your credit report. The alert notifies any institution that pulls your credit report that your identity may be compromised. This should, in turn, cause creditors to take extra identity verification steps prior to opening new accounts in your name. You only need to contact one credit bureau to institute a fraud alert on all of your credit reports.
- Freeze your credit – Freezing your credit is a free service, but you do have to contact each separate credit bureau—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—individually. Enabling a credit freeze will halt any and all access to your credit report—it will not be shared with anybody who requests it.
- Sign up for credit monitoring – Credit monitoring services alert you of any suspicious activity associated with your credit report, including the opening of any new accounts. Depending on how your data was compromised, you may be eligible for complimentary credit monitoring (e.g., if your data was stolen via a large data breach). Even if you are not eligible for free credit monitoring, it is highly recommended that you obtain it.
- Open new credit card and financial accounts – Reach out to all of your financial institutions to ask how they suggest remedying the fraud issues. Most likely, they will recommend that you close and reopen your accounts to ensure that they are fully secure.
Finally, in the wake of identity theft, it is important that you closely monitor all credit and account activity. You should do the following:
- Revisit the security measures on your accounts – Increase account security by changing your passwords to more complex ones that are unique to each account. This is a pain, but there are password manager tools available to make your life easier. Additional security measures to implement include shredding sensitive paper documents, storing your Social Security card somewhere safe (rather than in your wallet) and deleting any personal information from public profiles online. For more tips about securing yourself against identity theft, visit www.usa.gov/identity-theft.
- Review your credit reports – You should check your credit reports regularly in order to identify any fraudulent activity. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to request copies of your credit reports. By law, you are entitled to one free credit report from each credit bureau, per year.
- Review your credit card and bank statements – Take the time to scan through statements from any other accounts you have for fraudulent activity. Oftentimes, thieves start with small withdrawals to see whether or not you’re paying attention before escalating to larger activity.