If Your Identity’s Been Stolen, Take These Steps First
With quick action, you can minimize your losses
Imagine this: someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. As soon as you get an inkling that anything is wrong, you must act swiftly—identity theft can wreak havoc on your finances, credit and reputation.
If you are the unfortunate victim of identity theft, it will take time, money and patience to resolve issues. The best way to limit damage is to act immediately and follow-up diligently.
How to know you’re a victim
Some mistakes can be explained by human error—you or your spouse forgot about a purchase, or a child in your home used your account without your knowledge. However, if any of the instances listed below have occurred, you should immediately contact your bank, creditors and other providers:
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- Missing bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks or credit cards.
- Calls from debt collectors.
- Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
- Bills for products or services you didn’t use.
- Rejection for medical claims because you reached your benefit limit when you know you have not.
- Communication from the IRS regarding unreported income from an employer you don’t work for.
- Legal action is taken against you for a crime someone else allegedly committed in your name.
If your wallet, social security card or sensitive financial data is stolen, you should file a fraud alert on your credit file and monitor your accounts for unusual activity, regardless of whether anyone has accessed your account.
What to do if you’re a victim
Below are the steps to take if your identity is stolen. But first, take a moment to get organized. It is important to keep a log of all phone communication, send certified letters requesting a receipt and send copies of documents keeping all originals in file folders. It’s also helpful to keep a calendar for important dates, such as when you sent letters to creditors, deadlines for responses, and when to renew a fraud alert. This project will be with you for a while, and staying organized will make it a little less painful.
Call companies where you know fraud occurred
Though you will likely have to call companies again after you file a fraud report, it is a good idea to immediately call the fraud department for any accounts that you know fraud has occurred to stop additional charges. Explain that someone stole your identity and ask them to close or freeze the accounts. Change logins, passwords and PINS for all of your accounts.
File a fraud alert with credit reporting companies
Alerting credit reporting companies will prevent a thief from opening additional accounts in your name, so it is important to do immediately. There are three nationwide credit reporting companies that keep records of your credit history, but you only have to report to one of them. They will share information with the other two. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name.
- Equifax 1‑866-349‑5191
- Experian 1‑888‑397‑3742
- TransUnion 1‑800‑916‑8800
When you reach the company:
- Report that you are an identity theft victim.
- Ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file.
- Confirm that the company you call will contact the other 2 companies.
- Make sure they have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.
- Ask each company for a free copy of your credit report- the fraud alert allows you to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting companies
The initial alert stays on your report for 90 days, which can then be renewed after you complete your Identity Theft Report.
Create an Identity Theft Report
An Identity Theft Report helps you deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors and businesses that opened accounts in your name. It involves filing a complaint about the theft with the Federal Trade Commission (which can be done online), taking that report and filing a complaint with the police, and using the FTC report and police report to create an Identity Theft Report. You can then use the Report to:
- Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report.
- Stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, or from selling the debt to another company for collection.
- Place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.
- Get information from companies about accounts the identity thief opened or misused.
Consider freezing your credit file
Credit reporting companies can “freeze” your credit file on your request. Potential creditors cannot get your credit report, making it less likely that an identity thief can open new accounts in your name. The cost to place and lift a freeze depends on state law, and is typically free or minimal. In Minnesota, it costs $5 to freeze and $5 to unfreeze your account, unless you are already a victim of identity theft and can provide a police report or case number, then it is free.
Note that lenders or creditors that you may want to do business with cannot access your credit report when it is frozen. However, you can temporarily unfreeze your account for that company. Freezing your credit report does not affect your credit.
- Contact your state’s Attorney General office to determine fees for freezing and unfreezing your credit report.
- Contact each of the three credit reporting companies and ask them to freeze your account.
- If a fee is required, you will have to pay it to each of the three companies.
Close bogus accounts and remove charges
Now that you have taken steps to stop the identity theft, it is time to act on rebuilding your credit and reputation.
After you have obtained your Identity Theft Report, call the fraud department of each business where an account was opened.
- Explain that someone stole your identity.
- Tell them which charges are fraudulent. Ask the business to remove them.
- Ask the business to close the account.
- Ask the business to send you a letter confirming: they removed the fraudulent charges; the fraudulent account isn’t yours; you aren’t liable for it; it was removed from your credit report.
- Keep this letter. Use it if the account appears on your credit report later on.
- The business may require you to send them a copy of your Identity Theft Report or complete a special dispute form.
- Write down who you contacted and when.
Repair your credit report
You have the right to remove or block, fraudulent information from your credit report when your identity is stolen. Once the information is blocked, it won’t show up on your credit report, and companies can’t try to collect the debt from you. If you have an Identity Theft Report, credit bureaus must honor your request to block this information.
- Write to each of the three credit bureaus.
- Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report and proof of your identity: your name, address, and Social Security number.
- Explain which information on your report came from identity theft.
- Ask them to block that information.
If you don’t have an Identity Theft Report, you still can dispute incorrect information in your credit file. It can take longer, and there’s no guarantee that the credit bureaus will remove the information.
Depending on your situation, you might need to take additional steps to resolve tax-related identity theft, Social Security number misuse, stop debt collectors from trying to collect debts you don’t owe, resolve mistaken criminal charges and more.
The federal government has a step-by-step resource to help victims of identity theft create and file identity theft reports, repair credit and make a recovery plan. Visit identitytheft.gov for more information, including sample documents you can use.
If identity theft should happen to you, know that you are not alone. There is a new identity fraud victim every two seconds in the U.S. But with diligence, you can get past this violation to your privacy and financial well-being.