If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, you must take action immediately. You can minimize the damage if you act fast. You can get your money back and you can prevent further loss.
Schools and businesses have fire drills to practice what to do in case of a fire. It is just as essential to know in advance what you should do in case of identity theft.
Let’s look at what you should do if you suspect – or know – that your identity has been stolen.
Many forms of identity theft involve companies, often financial service providers. You may discover an unauthorized charge on your credit card or a withdrawal from your bank account that you didn’t make.
You might even find that a loan has been taken out in your name, or that you’re being billed for medical services that you didn’t use.
In any of these situations, get on the phone with the company involved. Ask for the fraud department and describe the unauthorized activity and how you discovered it. They will have a procedure in place to deal with the situation.
Have any written evidence, like an account statement or bill, with you when you call.
👉 Note: The identity theft recovery process will involve multiple calls. Always make a note of the date and time of the call, the name of the person you spoke to, and what they told you. It’s important to stay organized and document all communication.
Don’t be nervous about calling. You’re an innocent victim. Companies want to hear from you the moment you suspect fraud. This helps them prevent losses. Reporting fraud to a company does not cost you anything. The sooner you report the fraudulent charges, the more likely you are to recover your money.
Change all of your account login information, such as passwords and PINs. Do this for all of your accounts, and never use the same password for each one. Otherwise, a thief with your login information may access your money and credit at every institution you do business with.
Different companies have different procedures. Once you have reported the unauthorized activity, follow the instructions and supply any requested information. You will not be held liable for charges or accounts you didn’t open.
Report the Theft
After calling the individual companies, it’s time to contact organizations that can help you document and resolve your identity theft problem.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides a form for you to fill out to start the process of reporting identity theft. You can create a recovery plan and get a copy of your identity theft report.
- File a local police report. Go to your local police precinct and ask to file a report. Bring your FTC Identity Theft Report, personal identification, and any evidence of your identity theft.
- File any other necessary reports. For example, your local police may recommend filing a report with your state’s Attorney General’s office or financial regulator.
Keep copies of all of your reports. If you have to defend your fraud claims, it will be important to show that you took proper and immediate steps. The legal system favors you, the fraud victim, especially when you do your part.
If you have not filed appropriate reports you may raise suspicion about whether your claims are valid.
⚠️ Always keep all records and documents related to the theft. For example, keep any bills, statements, or demand notices related to the fraudulent charges or accounts.
Protect Your Credit
Once you have notified the FTC, the police, and any other official agencies, you’ll need to work with the credit bureaus to make sure that the identity theft does not damage your credit.
You can call the following toll-free numbers to report identity theft to the credit bureaus.
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
You only need to call one; the information will be supplied to the other credit bureaus. You will reach an automated system, where you will be prompted to provide information to identify yourself and describe your problem.
Each of the credit bureaus will place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file, which will prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts. Each bureau will send you a letter confirming the fraud alert and giving you instructions on how to get a free copy of your credit report.
When you get the free copies of your credit reports, examine them carefully and report any unauthorized accounts. They will be removed from your credit record.
Stop Future Identity Theft
If you have suffered one case of identity theft, your personal information has been compromised. A thief has it and could use it again. It could also be for sale. Stopping what has already happened is only half the battle.
Here’s what to do to protect yourself.
Protect Your Personal Identifiable Information (PII).
PII means data such as Social Security numbers, account numbers, passwords, your name and address, and your email addresses.
If someone has acquired some of your information, they will target you to try and get more. The more information they have on you the easier it will be to impersonate you. You’ll need to be extra vigilant. Read about how to protect your PII.
Ask For Notifications From Credit Card Companies
Many credit card companies already notify their customers if unusual activity appears. Make sure yours does that. However, some companies offer additional monitoring on your social security number or other identifying numbers worldwide. If any unusual use of your identity shows up, you receive a notice. Sign up for this service if you can.
See if You Already Have Credit or Identity Theft Monitoring
Many financial service providers bundle credit monitoring or identity theft protection with other services. Check with your bank or credit union, credit card providers, and any other financial service providers that you use. If they offer these services, sign up for them.
Place Restrictions on Your Credit Record
You can place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This will put the credit bureaus on alert and notify anyone checking your credit that they need to verify any credit application with you. Contact all three bureaus to place your fraud alerts.
All types of fraud alerts are free.
Here are the types of fraud alerts:
1. Extended Fraud Alert
This alert lasts seven years, though you can have it removed from your credit reports any time you want. This action attaches a note to your credit reports notifying businesses that you were a fraud victim. Companies must call you and verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.
You will not receive credit card or insurance offers for five years.
You will need a copy of a police report or an FTC report to qualify for an extended fraud alert.
2. Temporary Fraud Alert
This alert lasts one year. You do not need an FTC or police report to get it. Just ask your credit bureaus for this service.
3. Active Duty Alert
This works the same way as the other fraud alerts but is provided for active military personnel. It lasts one year. You won’t get any credit card or insurance offers for two years.
4. Credit Freeze
A credit freeze differs from a fraud alert in that it prevents anyone from viewing your credit scores and your credit history. You have to lift the freeze to allow anyone to check your credit. This service is free.
You do not pay a fee to unfreeze your credit accounts, but you must individually lift the freeze at all three bureaus. This does not hurt your credit score.
You will have to lift the freeze if you want to apply for credit or if someone has a legitimate reason to check your credit.
Inform Companies You Do Business With
If one of your accounts has been compromised, others might be at risk. It’s a good idea to inform all companies where you have credit lines or where you do regular business that your identity has been compromised and that someone may try to use your account.
This includes credit card providers, stores where you have credit, lenders where you have accounts, phone companies, and utility providers.
If your identity is compromised, all of your accounts are at risk. Check all of your credit card and bank statements regularly and carefully. If you receive paper statements, watch out for any that do not arrive: they may have been redirected to another address.
Use online statements with any providers that offer them, and check them frequently.
💡 Tip: If you notify companies of fraud the moment you see it, you will probably have the transactions removed from your account and have your balance restored to the pre-fraud level. Waiting can limit your recovery chances.
Hire a Service to Prevent and Repair Identity Theft
You can subscribe to professional identity theft services that monitor the use of your identity online. Some of these services will even make up for any loss you incur through identity theft. These companies can be faster than credit bureaus at identifying problems and addressing them, and their loss insurance can pay for itself.
Some will even help you hide your identity online, and give you a personal representative to help you repair your credit in the event your identity is stolen.
Rates range from free to quite expensive, depending on the level of service provided. Assess your risk and select a service that provides the protection you need at a price you can afford.
Don’t Panic, Act!
Discovering that someone has stolen your identity can be traumatic. Some victims freeze and do nothing. That won’t help. Remember that you are a victim of a crime, you’re not the only one, and there are systems in place to help you.
The problem won’t go away, and the longer you wait the worse it will get. If you are a victim, follow the steps above at once! The sooner you act, the sooner you can put the theft behind you and move forward.