What should you do after you discover your identity has been stolen? Which steps should victims of identity theft take? Will your life ever be able to return to normal? Keep reading to discover the answers to all of these questions.
The United States Department of Justice has published one of the best step-by-step guides for dealing with identity theft. That guide explains the following steps:
Step 1) Contact your local police station to file a police report
Contact your local police station on the non-emergency number to file a police report detailing your identity theft case. The sooner police know about your identity theft problems, the sooner you’ll be able to proceed.
Many of the organizations listed in the next steps require valid police reports in order to investigate your identity theft claims. You’ll also need a police report and an identity theft affidavit (which you’ll get from the FTC in step two) in order to create an identity theft report, which plays an important role in fixing your credit score after experiencing identity theft.
Step 2) Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the situation.
You can contact the FTC in a number of different ways. Most will prefer the online contact form, but other options include contacting the FTC via toll-free telephone at 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338) or mailing the Consumer Response Center at the address found on this page.
In most cases, the FTC will tell you to perform three steps:
1) Place a fraud alert by contacting at least one national credit reporting company
2) Order credit reports (you’re entitled to a free credit report after experiencing identity theft and filing a fraud alert)
3) Create an identity theft report in order to get negative credit score marks removed from your credit history
You can view detailed information about each of these three steps here.
Why would you contact the FTC? The FTC is responsible for receiving and processing all identity theft complaints. It encourages U.S. citizens to contact the FTC even if they’re not 100% sure they are victims of identity theft.
The FTC is legally required (according to the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998) to provide information to possible victims of identity theft. It’s also legally responsible for referring identity theft complaints to “appropriate entities”, which include Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion as well as law enforcement agencies.
Step 3) Contact other organizations for specific types of identity theft
The FTC can handle all general identity theft problems. However, it recommends contacting other federal organizations for specific types of identity theft problems. It’s a good idea to contact the FTC first before proceeding to contact other federal organizations based on the specific types of identity theft problems with which you’re dealing.
For serious cases of identity theft that involve criminal activities or fraudulent actions, the FTC recommends contacting your local FBI or U.S. Secret Service office.
If you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of address notification with the Post Office in order to redirect your mail, then contact your local Postal Inspection Service office. You should also contact the Postal Inspection Service if you believe an identity thief has used mail to commit fraudulent activities using your identity.
If you suspect that your identity thief has been fraudulently using your Social Security Number, then you’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. You can contact the SSA using the following toll-free number: 800-269-0271.
Finally, if you suspect an identity thief has been violating tax laws using your personal identification information, you should contact the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-0433.
If you’re ever unsure who to contact, you should contact the FTC first, who will then refer you to the appropriate agencies and organizations.
Step 4) Contact credit reporting agencies
As you may already know, there are three major credit reporting agencies in the United States. Those reporting agencies include Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three agencies track the credit histories of U.S. citizens and assign credit scores based on your estimated risk as a borrower.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, then these three agencies will likely have erroneous records under your name. It’s important to clear your name as soon as possible in order to prevent long-lasting negative impacts on your credit score.
Each credit agency generally has the same information about you. There are other private credit agencies and organizations which may have different information, but you generally don’t need to worry about these agencies. Why? Because virtually every bank, employer, and financing company you work with is going to rely on reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
With that in mind, contact each of the following agencies and explain your identity theft problem:
Equifax: Call (800) 525-6285 to report fraud or identity theft. If you want to dispute specific information on your credit background check, you’ll first need to order a credit check and then call the number provided on that report. If you recently discovered you’re a victim of identity theft, you probably recently ordered a credit check already.
Experian: Call (888) 397-3742 to report fraud and identity theft. Just like with Equifax, you’ll need to call the number listed on your credit report in order to dispute specific items on your history.
TransUnion: Call (800) 680-7289 to report fraud and identity theft. You will have to call the number listed in your credit report to dispute specific elements of your credit history.
Step 5) Contact other businesses, organizations, and parties with which your identity was fraudulently used
Sometimes, identity thieves use your personal information to apply for a single loan and then never use that information again.
In other cases, identity thieves have been fraudulently using your information for years. They may have a driver’s license, student loan, credit card, and bank account in your name. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to get to work as soon as possible contacting all of the companies and entities that have been affected by your identity theft.
Those entities include but are not limited to:
- All creditors with whom your name or identifying data have been fraudulently used
- Financial institutions where you have fraudulent accounts or accounts that the identity thief has tried to access
- Businesses like grocery stores, department stores, or airlines that offer rewards cards and credit cards which may have been fraudulently accessed in your name
- Your local Department of Motor Vehicles office (identity thieves often apply for a fraudulent license in the name of the victim).
- Any merchant, vendor, or individual that may have received a fraudulent check in your name
- Countless other individuals, organizations, and companies may also need to be contacted. Think of the people with whom you do business on a regular basis. Think of anyone you’ve exchanged personal information with in the last few years. Make note of the first instance of fraud on your credit report and make sure you’ve contacted all affected parties you worked with since that date.
Step 6) Change passwords and other identifying information
Once you’ve completed all the steps listed above, you generally need to wait for the cogs of bureaucracy to start turning. Your identity theft problems won’t be fixed in a day, but after filling out enough paperwork, you should be able to get your life back in working order.
While you wait, complete one final step: change your passwords and other identifying information. You may not know how the identity thief got access to your personal information. To eliminate possible weak links in your personal chain of security, change all passwords for the following services:
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts
- Bank accounts
- ATM cards
- Any other accounts with personal information you might access on a regular basis
Step 7) Consider hiring an attorney
Most people don’t need to hire an attorney to solve their identity theft issues. However, you may want to hire an attorney if you wish to press charges against the identity thief or if you are having trouble overturning a particularly bad record on your credit history.
If you feel you need to hire an attorney for your particular identity theft case, then you should be able to find a number of attorneys in your local area that specialize in identity theft cases.
Victim Resources for Identity Theft
Victims of identity theft aren’t alone. Every year, millions of identities are stolen in the United States alone. The United States government offers a number of valuable resources designed to help anyone combat identity theft and reduce the negative effects of identity theft when it does occur.
Below, you’ll find a number of valuable links to various identity theft resources:
–Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Most major banks in the United States are insured by FDIC. That means account holders are protected from fraud and other issues up to a limit of $250,000 per insured bank. If an identity thief accessed your bank accounts fraudulently, then consider contacting FDIC for more information about reclaiming your money.
-Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Information: The FTC is your number one resource for fighting back against identity theft. Their website features all sorts of tips and tricks for reducing your chances of identity theft and fighting back against identity theft when it occurs.
-United States Secret Service: Many people are surprised to learn the diverse roles the Secret Service plays in protecting America. The U.S. Secret Service does more than just protect the president: they also protect the country against money laundering, forgery, computer fraud, and various other malicious and fraudulent activities. The average identity theft victim likely won’t need to contact the Secret Service following the incident, but those who have suffered a major fraudulent identity theft attack may want to speak to their local Secret Service office.
-National Consumers League: The National Consumers League website has a number of fraud prevention resources available to visitors.
-Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: PrivacyRights.org features all sorts of helpful tips and guides designed to help anyone fight identity theft and protect their privacy wherever they go.
-Various community organizations and fraud prevention centers: Some cities have free identity theft protection resources. These free resources allow victims of identity theft to talk to prevention professionals and understand the next steps available to them. Some identity theft prevention services are free and run by nonprofit organizations, while others charge a small fee. These are often the best places to visit if you’re unsure of how to proceed with your identity theft case because information is catered to your personal case and to your local area.
How to repair your credit score after identity theft
Repairing credit score is relatively straightforward: you need to remove negative credit marks from your credit history.
Unfortunately, when identity theft has occurred, those negative credit marks can be painstaking to remove. Proving that you were not the person making those claims or missing bill payments isn’t always easy.
Here are some tips for repairing your credit score after identity theft has occurred:
Contact the business or organization that has records of any fraudulent transactions conducted in your name
Dispute all fraudulent errors with your credit reporting company as well as the fraud department of each business that reported an error
If you want to block information from appearing on your credit report, then you’ll want to file an Identity Theft Report with the FTC
Consider hiring a credit repair specialist. Credit repair companies have experience removing negative credit score marks from your credit history. However, they’re generally used by people who have not experienced identity theft but still want to repair their credit score, so only use this option as a last resort.
Remember: Correcting identity theft is rarely easy
No matter what type of identity theft you’ve experienced, it’s rarely easy to correct identity theft. Instead of getting discouraged by that fact, consider the two options in front of you: first, you can ignore the identity theft and live with the consequences of having low credit scores and other major problems for the next decade. Or, second, you can address the problem, clear your record, and take steps to prevent your identity from ever being stolen again.
Above all, consider this: millions of Americans have experienced identity theft. You’re not the first person go through this and you won’t be the last. Keep your head up, follow the steps listed above, and you’ll be free of this mess in no time at all.