Identity Theft Checklist
Frankly, identity theft is a nightmare. It wreaks havoc on your ability to complete a multitude of everyday activities such as obtaining credit, receiving benefits, making payments, and more.
Below, we've provided a general outline of steps you can take to prevent, report, and put an end to identity fraud.
Understand Valuable Information
Obviously, it takes more than just your name to steal your identity. With the right information (and documents) in hand, identity fraud isn't all that difficult.
To increase your chances of identity theft protection, keep the following bits of information safe:
- Your driver's license or identification card.
- Both documents include your date of birth and address, which you also should keep as private as possible.
- Some states still include Social Security numbers on driver licenses and identification cards; be mindful of keeping that number private.
- Your Social Security number and card.
- All bank account numbers, credit union information, and credit card numbers.
- To increase security for these accounts, make sure your password is extremely difficult to guess. For example, don't simply use your mother's maiden name or your child's birthdate.
- Also make sure your credit card or debit card isn't missing.
- Your health insurance card.
- Identity thieves can use these cards (especially when combined with other identifying documents) to receive medical treatment on your dime.
- Important pieces of mail.
- The information on bank statements and bills can make identity theft especially easy.
- Various types of identification documentation.
- Such documentation can include your:
- Birth certificate.
- Loved one's birth and/or death record.
- Marriage and/or divorce records.
- Such documentation can include your:
Check Warning Signs
Naturally, you'll want to check identity theft warning signs if you suspect fraud; however, we recommend periodically checking these signs anyway, as it can take a long time before you realize your identity has been stolen.
Some of the most common identity theft warning signs include:
- Incorrect information on your credit report.
- Missing bank statements, bills, and other important mail.
- Unexplainable withdrawals from your bank or credit union account.
- Charges on your credit cards you didn't make, or suspicious credit denial.
- Notices of new credit accounts for which you didn't apply.
- Medical bills for procedures you didn't have.
- Any type of health insurance or health care denial.
- Receiving IRS notifications about incorrect financial information.
- Being contacted by creditors and other debt collectors.
Know Your Rights
Fortunately, the government doesn't take identity fraud lightly, and you have plenty of state and federal rights to combat identity theft.
For example, under federal law, you can:
- File an identity theft report online with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Contact credit bureaus to place various fraud alerts on your credit report.
- Notify creditors and other debt collectors about accounts you didn't open and request they stop contacting you.
- Depending on your situation, you might need to provide certain evidence, such as your identity theft report.
- Utilize additional federal rights.
- These include rights such as reasonable protection from your identity thief and receiving details about public court proceedings.
- Taking advantage of federal and state loss limits.
We go into much more depth about your federal and state rights regarding identity theft—including references where you can find the exact tools you need—on our page addressing Identity Theft & Your Rights.
Report to Authorities
Once you're suspicious of (or fully convinced that) your identity has been stolen, it's time to alert the authorities; in this case, meaning the Federal Trade Commission.
As mentioned above, you need to file an identity theft report with the FTC. Fortunately, the FTC provides this service online, helping you make the report as quickly as possible.
At the beginning of the process, the FTC allows you to choose from several options, from filing an actual identity theft report to simply notifying the FTC that your wallet was stolen and you're worried about identity theft.
Once you choose the option that best fits your situation, the online application will walk you through the appropriate steps, asking questions applicable to your situation.
When the application is complete, you will submit it to the FTC online, but the FTC strongly encourages you to download and print a copy of the report for future use; for example, you can present this report to local authorities when you file a police report, as well as provide copies to various debt collectors and creditors when it's time to request they cease contacting you about credit charges and accounts for which you're not responsible.
Contact Banks & Creditors
Banks & Credit Unions
First, check your recent bank or credit union statements.
If you don't see any suspicious activity, you can work with the financial institution to protect your money.
A representative may suggest opening a new account and transferring your money; of course, this will require a new debit or bank credit card, as well as new checks, which means you'll need to update your information with any online payment accounts you have. Plus, you'll need to change any passwords and PIN numbers associated with your accounts. Small price to pay though, right?
However, if you do see suspicious activity, it's important to know your federal and state rights regarding your responsibility for this money to limit your financial responsibility for the identity thief's transactions.
Creditors & Other Debt Collectors
Once you've filed an identity report with the FTC (and ideally a police report), you can use copies of these reports to complete a written request to creditors and other debt collectors—along with a written request to stop contacting your for payments.
Generally, these debt collectors must stop contacting you after you've presented the adequate information.