Recovering from Identity Theft
With millions of people being victimized every year, it is clear to see that identity theft is a major threat. While it's easy to think this is something that won't happen to you, the odds make it a real possibility. In the event it does, know what to do so that no time is wasted saving your credit rating and potential out-of-pocket costs resolving identity theft.
If you have some questions about identity theft, our FAQ page has answers that may be helpful to you.
Reporting Identity Theft
Act fast. The sooner you notify the companies you do business with, like your bank and credit card companies, the better. The longer you wait, the more you risk. In some cases you may choose, or the company may suggest, to close your account and open a new one.
Additionally, you should:
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can do this using their online reporting website.
- Completing this process will produce an Identity Theft Affidavit.
- File a police report.
- It will be helpful to provide your Identity Theft Affidavit to the police.
- Contact any other company or organization that may be involved with the identity theft.
- Contact one of the following major credit bureaus to request a fraud alert:
Identity Theft Recovery
Identity theft is a nightmare, but there are ways to restore your identity.
Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees identity theft cases, and provides an Identity Theft Affidavit for you to complete when your identity has been stolen.
The official complaint allows you to report a number of identity theft or attempted identity theft situations, such as:
- Information exposed in a data breach.
- Lost effects such as a purse or wallet containing personal information.
- Tax returns filed using your information.
Use the FTC's official Identity Theft Affidavit to complete and submit your form online (but don't forget to print a copy for yourself, too).
Complete an Identity Theft Report
Your Identity Theft Report includes the:
- Identity Theft Affidavit you completed with the FTC (see above).
- This is why it's important to print a copy of your Identity Theft Affidavit; so you can compile it in your Identity Theft Report.
- Police report you filed with law enforcement in the community where the theft happened.
The purpose of your Identity Theft Report is to help:
- Correct credit report inaccuracies.
- Stop fraudulent charges or debts from reappearing.
- Prevent creditors from using debt collection agencies against you.
NOTE: While a copy of your Identity Theft Affidavit and police report are crucial components, it's best to keep copies of every document you've used to report your identity has been stolen for your Identity Theft Report. This might include everything from IRS correspondence stating a return was filed using your information, to a letter you receive in the mail letting you know a credit card (you didn't apply for) has been approved.
Contact Major Credit Bureaus
Numerous businesses provide just as many credit-reporting services throughout America; however, because of the number of banks, creditors, and other companies they work with, three of those credit-reporting agencies (also known as “The Big 3") probably have become the most well known and respected.
Even though they're all publicly traded and for-profit companies, each one must comply with regulations set forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Aside from providing you with free annual credit reports (see “Monitor Credit Reports" below), you can also use these credit bureaus to put a freeze on your credit and provide fraud alerts.
Request Credit Freezes
The credit bureaus can place a credit freeze, or security freeze, which restricts access to your credit report.
Credit freezes are useful in stopping current identity theft because they stop access to your credit report. Without that access, ID thieves can't open fraudulent accounts in your name; most creditors simply won't open a new account without seeing your credit report.
To place a freeze on your credit, simply:
- Contact the major credit bureaus.
- Request a credit freeze.
- Pay any associated fees.
It's possible to temporarily lift the credit freeze for yourself or a specific person or company whenever you need to:
- Access your free annual credit reports.
- Open a new credit account.
- Apply for employment.
- Rent real estate (such as an apartment or house).
- Purchase insurance.
Fortunately, a credit freeze won't negatively affect your credit score.
Extended Fraud Alerts
Also, credit bureaus can place fraud alerts on your credit report. Fraud alerts mean potential creditors must verify your identity when someone applies for credit using your name.
You can choose a fraud alert for 90 days or 7 years.
To place a fraud alert on your credit report:
- Contact the major credit bureaus.
- Generally, if you contact one, that one must contact the others.
- Explain the situation and specifically ask for a fraud alert.
- Complete any required paperwork.
- Keep copies for your Identity Theft Report (see above).
Typically, fraud alerts are free to put in place and remove if your identity has been stolen.
Close Fake Accounts
First, obtain an Identity Theft Report (see above), and all documents you've included within it.
Next, contact the fraud department of each business targeted by your identity thief and:
- Explain your identity theft situation.
- You might need to send a copy of your Identity Theft Report as proof.
- Request they close your account(s).
- Ask them to send you confirmation that:
- You don't own the account.
- You aren't liable for the account charges.
- They've removed the information from your credit report.
Remove Fraudulent Charges
Speaking of fraud departments, while you're speaking with an agent about closing fake accounts (see above) also is a good time to talk about removing fraudulent charges made with those accounts.
Before you speak with the fraud department, be prepared to provide information about the:
- Number of fake accounts the ID thief opened.
- Fraudulent purchases the thief made.
- Amount of money spent or withdrawn.
As mentioned above, the fraud department might request to see your official Identity Theft Report, too.
Once you've provided all necessary information, request the business remove all associated charges and provide you with documentation confirming they've handled the situation.
Preventing Identity Theft
Whether you're coming back from an identity theft or want to prevent it from ever happening to you, consider these tips.
Protect Sensitive Information
Certain documents contain sensitive pieces of information, and these documents are like gold mines for identity thieves.
Keep the following documents protected when you need them, and destroy them when you don't:
- Driver's license or identification card.
- Social Security card (or Social Security number, in general).
- All bank and credit information, including bank- and credit union-related numbers such as:
- Account numbers.
- Routing numbers.
- Bank card PIN numbers.
- Health insurance card.
- This includes any documents containing policy information.
- Important mail, such as:
- Bank statements.
- Credit card applications.
- Other identifying documents, like:
- Birth certificates.
- Marriage licenses or divorce decrees.
- Death certificates.
Check out our Identity Theft Checklist to learn more about all the types of sensitive information and how you can protect it.
Monitor Credit Reports
Thanks to the FTC, you're entitled to an annual free copy of your credit report from “The Big 3" credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You can order a copy of your credit report from any of the credit report agencies listed above, but generally these agencies offer paid memberships; thus, but FTC asserts that AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized website for free credit reports.
To help keep identity thieves from accessing your credit report, you must provide personally identifying information such as your full name, address, birthdate, and Social Security number.
Periodically checking your credit report is a smart way to prevent identity theft because it allows you to see whether there are any suspicious activities or errors on your report, as well as check for credit accounts or listed addresses you don't recognize.
Use an Identity Protection Company
Each identity protection company offers various services, but some of the most common include:
- Putting a flag, lock, or freeze on your credit report upon discovering suspicious activity.
- Applying fraud alerts or credit freezes on reports.
- Removing you from mailing lists.
- Guaranteeing reimbursement for losses in the event of future identity theft.
- Determining any personal information that's been exposed online.
- Automatically updating or renewing your alerts.
Some ID protection agencies even help you rebuild your identity by providing limited power of attorney services, such as acting on your behalf when working with creditors, consumer reporting companies, and other information sources.
Finding identity theft protection companies is easy; however, you'll want to spend some extra time studying the services they offer (and any available reviews) before deciding on the one that's best for your needs.
NOTE: Consider checking with your current bank or credit union, too. For a nominal fee (or even free), many such financial institutions offer alerts related to any suspicious activities common among identity thieves.