You may feel overwhelmed and confused after finding out that identity theft has affected you. Still, you need to act promptly to ensure that the damage is kept to a minimum and that your finances can recover as quickly as possible. You should start by closing or freezing your account at any company at which you know that fraud occurred. You can do this by calling the company’s fraud department and telling them about the identity theft. Then, you should change your log-in information, passwords, and any other security features of those accounts.
After these initial steps, you should put a one-year fraud alert in effect. You can do this by contacting any of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion), which will then alert the others. A fraud alert will require businesses to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name, so it will be harder for a thief to open a new account in your name. You should also get credit reports from all three credit bureaus and review the reports to make sure that all of the transactions are legitimate. You can report any transaction that is not legitimate.
Reporting Identity Theft
A victim of identity theft can report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the police. The FTC will generate an Identity Theft Report, which you can use to show businesses that you have been subject to identity theft. This government agency also will provide you with a recovery plan and guide you through each step.
If you choose to report the theft to the police, you can take your Identity Theft Report, your government-issued ID, proof of your address, and any other evidence pertaining to the theft to the police office. They will help you file a report. You should get a copy of the police report, which may be useful later.
Repairing Your Finances
Once the initial emergency has passed, you should contact any company at which a thief opened a fraudulent account in your name. You can tell the company’s fraud department that your identity was stolen and ask them to close the fraudulent account. Victims of identity theft should have these businesses send them a letter to confirm that the account was fraudulent and was removed from their credit report. You may need this letter if your credit report later shows the account.
A similar process applies to any of your own accounts at which you find fraudulent charges. Once you have resolved the fraudulent accounts and fraudulent charges, you can ask the three credit bureaus to remove information from your credit report that resulted from the identity theft. You should provide proof of your identity as well as a copy of your Identity Theft Report when sending this letter.
In some situations, a consumer may want to consider extending their initial credit freeze or fraud alert. An extended fraud alert can last for up to seven years, while a credit freeze lasts as long as you want. A credit freeze is a stronger measure, since it prevents all access to your credit report. By contrast, an extended fraud alert does allow access upon verification of your identity.
Certain situations may require taking additional measures to fix the problem. For example, you may need to replace your government-issued IDs, such as a passport, a Social Security card, or a driver’s license. You can contact the applicable government agency to handle this matter. If you lost your Social Security card, or if your Social Security number was exposed, you should report the theft and get a replacement card.
Sometimes identity theft results in consumers accumulating debts that they do not actually owe. You may receive a debt collection letter, to which you can respond by notifying the debt collector of the identity theft and providing it with proof of the theft, such as your Identity Theft Report. You should also contact the business that reported the debt to the collection agency and tell it to stop. Finally, you should contact the credit bureaus to remove information involving the debt from your credit reports.
In extreme situations, an identity thief may use the personal identifying information that they stole to implicate you in a crime. You should promptly file a report about the impersonation through the appropriate law enforcement agency. In addition to changing the name in its records, the law enforcement agency should give you a clearance letter or certificate of release, which will state your innocence. If the case progresses to prosecuting someone else under your name, you should contact the district attorney’s office or the state Attorney General for assistance in clearing your name in court records. You can always contact a criminal defense lawyer to guide you through this process.
Accounts Requiring Specific Actions
You may need to contact additional entities or government agencies in certain situations involving identity theft. These include theft affecting your student loans, checking accounts, investment accounts, apartment rentals, utilities, phones, and government benefits. In each of these situations, you should inform the entity or agency that provides the service or benefit about the theft, correct any fraudulent information related to the theft, and make sure that it does not appear on your credit report. If someone has fraudulently filed for bankruptcy in your name, you may want to hire a bankruptcy attorney to help get the filing off your record.