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Stolen Identity? What to Do Next

Identity theft victims often don't know their personal information is compromised until the damage is done. A quick response minimizes the fallout. The sooner you cut off the thief's access, the better.

Protect yourself or your loved one as a victim of identity theft. Follow the steps in this article if you believe someone stole your identity.

Prepare to file multiple reports with companies and agencies. You'll also review all your financial and personal accounts to see the full extent of the identity thief's crime. Take detailed notes of your actions and conversations throughout the process. Save or copy written correspondence like emails and letters.

Report Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission

Identity theft is a significant focus of the government's consumer protection efforts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uses fraud reports to help law enforcement officials track and catch identity thieves.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created, a safe online resource. This website can guide you after a scam, data breach, or another problem exposed you to identity theft. You don't need to know how the thief stole your information to file a report.

You may file your complaint online or call the FTC's hotline at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338). The FTC will send you a copy of your report and add it to its Identity Theft Clearinghouse.

The Benefits of Your FTC Report

You can use your printed FTC ID Theft Complaint form to:

  • Block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report
  • Prevent fraudulent debts from reappearing on your credit report
  • Prevent companies from attempting to collect debts resulting from identity theft
  • Expedite the process of placing an extended fraud alert on your credit report

Your report can be handy for the next few steps as you contact private companies and local police.

Send a Fraud Alert to Credit Bureaus

An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days. This alert blocks new cards, credit increases for existing accounts, and new credit applications. Three credit bureaus maintain credit reports and respond to fraud alerts.

Send your fraud alert through any one of the following options:

Each bureau must contact the other two once you send a fraud alert, so you don't have to fill out reports with them all. Contact any credit reporting agencies that don't send confirmation of your fraud alert.

Freeze Credit or Extend Your Alert

An extended fraud alert lasts up to seven years. Only identity theft victims are eligible for an extended alert. Send your Identity Theft Report to the credit reporting bureau when filing for an extended alert.

You can also freeze your credit. Security freezes are available to anyone regardless of identity theft. A credit freeze makes it impossible to open new credit accounts under your name. Freezing your credit is a free way to prevent identity theft, and you can end the freeze when necessary.

Review Your Free Credit Reports

Check your credit reports to detect any potential signs of identity theft. All three major credit reporting companies must offer a free copy of your credit report when you make a fraud alert.

Review them carefully, looking for any of the following:

  • Inquiries from companies you didn't contact
  • An account or new credit line you didn't open
  • Debts on current accounts that don't make sense

Request to remove any inaccurate or fraudulent information, such as a misspelled name or incorrect Social Security number. Sometimes, these errors may be simple administrative mistakes. But if you are repairing identity theft, errors could reflect the thief's activity.

Check Your Account Records

Identity theft can alter your accounts in many ways, so look for signs of damage like:

  • Debits to your existing bank account
  • Unrecognizable checks from your account
  • Charges to your current credit card or online payment service
  • Increased credit card limits
  • New unauthorized accounts, such as a new credit card or bank account
  • Recent login attempts for your online accounts, including investment, medical, and retirement accounts
  • Different login information, which locks you out of your own accounts

Contact each financial institution or company to speak with someone in the security or fraud department. Ask the company for forms to dispute any transactions you believe the identity thief made.

If they don't provide such forms, use a sample letter to help you draft a formal dispute. Address the letter to the company's billing inquiries department.

Stop payment on fake checks you never sent. Contact one of the check verification companies, such as TeleCheck or Certegy, to report fraudulent checks.

Close Affected Accounts and Open New Ones

Start fresh with new accounts for banking and finances when possible. Replacing old accounts can give you new account numbers that the identity thief won't know. Your old accounts could include anything from your life savings to your entertainment subscriptions.

Use new PINs and passwords when opening new secure accounts. Avoid using personal information such as your birth date or mother's maiden name in your login credentials.

For new accounts you didn't create, file your dispute directly with the company. Ask if the company accepts ID theft documents from the FTC. If not, ask a company representative for its fraud dispute forms.

Or, file a police report first and provide a copy to the company. Filing such an official police report first often gives you more protection. Companies that receive an Identity Theft Report must stop reporting fraudulent information.

Keep Records and Document the Process

Follow up with companies in writing. Include copies of relevant documents, but keep the originals in a file. Send letters by certified mail with a requested return receipt so you can document what each company received and when.

After resolving your identity theft dispute, ask the company to confirm the closure of fraudulent accounts and discharge fraudulent debts. Keep this in your records as proof against any potential future errors in your credit report.

File a Police Report

Contact your local police department or sheriff's office to file an official report about your identity theft.

Most law enforcement agencies will let you file the report over the phone or online if you can't file it in person. Bring a printed copy of your FTC ID Theft Complaint form and any supporting information if you file your report in person. These documents can streamline the process.

Ask the officer to include the ID Theft Complaint with the police report. Ask for a copy of the final report so you can use it to dispute fraudulent accounts or charges.

In some places, officers can't provide a copy of the police report. You can instead ask them to sign your FTC ID Theft Complaint and write the police report number in the proper section.

What if Police Refuse To Take My Report?

Contact another jurisdiction if local law enforcement hesitates to accept your report. For example, your state police department may be more helpful. Some states appoint special agents to investigate scams and identity theft.

You can also check whether your state requires police departments to file identity theft reports. Your state attorney general's office may have more information about police involvement and alternatives.

Protect Your Mail From Identity Thieves

While many identity thieves steal from victims digitally, some may be closer to home. Identity thieves may scout your postal address for new opportunities.

Consider dropping off any outgoing mail directly at the post office. Contact your local postal inspector if you believe the thief rerouted your incoming mail to another address. Explain the situation and ask them to send it to your correct address.

Stolen Passports and ID cards

Identity thieves might steal more than money in the bank; they can take your vital government benefits or tax returns. Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you believe a scammer used your Social Security number.

Thieves may also steal your passport to get access to your identity. Or, they might use your stolen information to get a fraudulent passport under your name. Contact the U.S. State Department promptly to report passport theft.

Your driver's license may be another target for thieves. Contact your state's department of motor vehicles to cancel your stolen card. They can issue a new card with a different driver's license number. Most states also allow identity theft victims to place a fraud alert on their license.

Do I Have To Pay the Thief's Debts?

No, debt collectors can't pursue you if you can prove the debt was fraudulent. Yet, they probably won't know which debts are fraudulent.

Inform debt collectors and creditors by phone and in writing that you are a victim of identity theft. Include the police report and related documents in your letter as evidence.

Legal Help Is Available for Consumers

The law may let you hold the identity thief or company with security problems accountable. Consumer lawyers can help you review your options. Or, an attorney can explain what to do if companies, credit agencies, or the police fail to fulfill their duties.

Recovering from a stolen identity can be costly and burdensome. Your rights can let you contain the damage, reverse losses, and protect yourself for the future.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.

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