What to Do When Your Identity is Stolen

by Staff Writer on July 16, 2012

If you have had your purse or wallet stolen, or if key financial information has been compromised, you may be at risk for identity theft. Sometimes your only warning is a call from your bank concerning charges someone else is making on your account. At the worst, you do not discover the theft until your identity has already been used to incur expenses and debts.

When you believe your identity has been stolen, calm and immediate action is vital. It does not matter who stole it or why: Follow these steps to protect your assets and prevent future problems:

Take Action

1. Create a Log Folder: Designate a folder as your Identity Theft Log. Every time you make a phone call, include dates, names, numbers, and information. Every time you use a document, make a copy. Record all the hours and expenses incurred when dealing with the theft. Not only can this help resolve legal disputes, it can also make it easy to apply for income tax deductions.

2. Call the Credit Bureaus: The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Contact each of them as they will all be very experienced in fraud, let them know about the theft, and make them issue a fraud alert. The fraud alert is free and lasts for 90 days, after which you can renew it – when present it alerts the credit agencies and you of any suspicious credit activity, and requires all businesses to confirm your identity when processing credit.  Take time to ask one of the Bureaus for more information on fraud and credit reports, or search their website resources. Remember to order a free credit report from each agency: The information will overlap, but that will make it easier to spot errors.

3. Regain Control: With your fraud alert up and your credit reports on the way, it is time to protect your money. You can contact your state Attorney General’s office and request a credit freeze, which means current creditors cannot see your credit report, which ensures that thieves cannot create new debt in your name; there may be a $10 charge for this service. Likewise, you should contact your banks and notify them about the identity theft so they are aware. You should also consider cancelling cards and closing accounts if they are accessed. If you contact your bank within 2 business days after the first fraud, your liability will only be around $50.

4. Submit Reports: You need to let several organizations know about your identity theft as soon as possible. Submit a complaint to the FTC and file a police report. Make sure you are still keeping copies of all documents and including them on additional reports when appropriate. If large frauds have already occurred, you may also want to contact the businesses involved, postal inspectors, phone companies, hospitals, insurance companies, the Social Security Administration – any organization affected by the fraud.

5. Review Your Credit: When your credit reports arrive, compare them and look for any errors, as the Bureaus can make mistakes, before looking for signs of fraud like new accounts or debts you did not create. Dispute these errors by creating a written report to the Bureaus with all necessary documents showing the error, and maintain contact to ensure changes are made.

Protect Your Future

In addition to the five steps actionable steps to regain control of your credit and finances, there are a couple more best practices that will be helpful when dealing with fraud.

  • Get Copies: Write to all businesses affected by the identity theft and explain the situation. Ask them for copies of the fraudulent transactions, which they are legally required to provide for free within 30 days. These show how thieves used your information, and what data they stole. Keep this in mind for future reference.
  • Stay Vigilant: Change all your passwords and PINs, even those unaffected. Continue ordering annual credit reports to look for suspicious activity. Read your billing statements carefully.
  • Protect Who You Are: Remember the basics, and shred sensitive documents, lock up financial information, and avoid any suspicious websites or emails. Use firewalls, protect your passwords, and avoid sharing personal information on social networks. When in doubt, read privacy policies or call the organization in question.

Additional Resources

Nolo – Stolen Identity? Here’s What to Do: This easy-to-understand law advice site contains a well-rounded look at the major steps of identity theft reaction, including useful links.

FTC – Identity Crisis… What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen: This is advice from the Federal Trade Commission, an organization in the federal government dedicated to increasing identity theft awareness. It is official and highly professional.
FTC: Taking Charge: This much longer document is a more complete look at the necessary responses to identity theft and may serve you better if you have an extended period of time to sit down and study it. It provides a checklist and thorough instructions for contacting all organizations.

FTC: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft: The FTC calls it the Deter-Detect-Defend strategy, and if you have some time to devote to online research, most key information is available here. This site is more of an interactive portal than a document, filled with different publications and answers concerning identity theft prevention.

Social Security: Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number: This federal FAQ is very useful if you are particularly worried about the safety of your social security number or have misplaced your social security card.

ED.gov: MISUSED Home Page: This site is dedicated to helping students who have been victims of various types of fraud. Because students can be in an especially vulnerable position when it comes to identity theft, this may be a key resource.

Dummies.com: What to Do When Your Identity Is Stolen: This Identity Theft for Dummies list is simply and encouraging, an ideal solution if the stress feels overwhelming and you need something easy to work with.

Ohio Secretary of State: Business Identity Theft: This Ohio site provides a clear overview of business identity theft and appropriate responses.

Categories: Additional Resources

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