If your identity has been stolen, time is of the essence – here’s how you can get your life back to normal.
How to Stop Identity Theft: Key Steps To Take
- Place an initial fraud alert
- Freeze your credit
- Access credit reports
- Contact affected creditors, banks, and companies
- If relevant, file an IRS identity theft affidavit
- Gather supporting documents for review
- Report identity theft to the FTC
- Contact your local police department
- File a claim with your identity theft insurance
- Close new accounts opened in your name
- Remove any changes from your existing accounts
- Dispute credit report inaccuracies
- Follow up initial calls to creditors with letters
- Replace SSN, driver’s license, and other IDs
- Stop false debt collection efforts
- Contact medical care providers
- Clear your name of criminal charges
- Protect your online information
- Review your credit reports regularly
- Consider adding an extended fraud alert
Before it Happens: Focus on Prevention
No one expects to be a victim of identity theft – until it happens. The truth is, identity theft is surprisingly common, and none of us are completely safe from it. That’s why the most important step in any identity theft protection plan is prevention.
One of the first places you can start is removing your information from people-search sites. These sites collect as much of your personal information as they can, and then they publish this profile for all to see. As you can imagine, this is a great place for identity thieves to locate their targets and begin their attack. Chances are, your home address, date of birth, phone numbers, and possibly much more are already published on hundreds of people-search sites right now.
We built OneRep to make scrubbing your information off of these sites a breeze. While you could always opt out of each site manually (see our DYI removal guides to help you out), you can save time by using OneRep, which automatically removes your information – and keeps it off.
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After it Happens: 20 Steps to Stop Identity Theft
If you’re reading this because you’re a victim of identity theft, understand that you’ve already taken a big step in the right direction. Spotting identity theft isn’t easy – sometimes it goes on for years unnoticed. Now that you’re onto the identity thief, we can start taking your identity back. Here’s how you can do it in four stages.
Stage 1: Stop ID Fraud as Soon as Possible
Before you focus on reporting ID theft or disputing fraudulent activities, you need to stop identity theft from getting worse. By following these steps, it’ll be a lot harder for the identity thief to continue abusing your identity.
1. Place a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert makes it very challenging for an identity thief to open up new lines of credit because it obligates banks to verify your identity before servicing your requests. Everyone gets one free fraud alert a year, and once you place one with a major credit bureau, the other two will automatically be notified.
2. Freeze Your Credit
When you freeze your credit, no new loans, services, or credit lines can be opened without your direct consent. This extra layer of security, along with a fraud alert, will block identity thieves from causing more damage than they already have.
3. Access Credit Reports
Now that you’ve stopped the criminal from opening up new accounts, it’s time to get a better idea of the damage they’ve done. Go ahead and access your credit report from all three bureaus, and search every entry for suspicious activity. You can request your credit report digitally on these official pages: TransUnion, Experian, Equifax.
4. Contact Affected Creditors, Banks, and Companies
The algorithm to follow is write down a list of every bank, business, creditor, and other organizations that were involved in the fraudulent activity, and then reach out to let them know what happened.
The FTC has a great resource that walks you through contacting different types of accounts, including utilities, phone, government benefits, checking accounts, student loans, housing, and more.
5. If Relevant, File an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit
If the identity thief committed tax fraud, go ahead and file an identity theft affidavit with the IRS. This document will let the IRS know that you may have been a victim of ID theft, and then they’ll perform their own investigation.
Stage 2: Document and Report the CrimeNow that the threat is minimized, you can start surveying the damages. It’s important to perform a thorough survey of all fraudulent activities to make sure everything is accounted for. Once you do this, you’ll have all of the documentation you need to write up a highly effective report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This will also be a big help for recovering your name after someone stole your identity.
6. Gather Documentation for ReviewThis is the time to gather as much proof of ID theft as you possibly can. Study your credit report, bank statements, important accounts, suspicious notices in the mail – anything. The goal is to build a complete picture of the damages that the identity thief has caused. This will make it easier to file an effective FTC report.
7. Report Identity Theft to the FTCIt’s time to let the FTC know that your identity has been stolen. Go ahead and visit the FTC’s dedicated identity theft website. It will walk you through everything you need to do.
8. Contact Your Local Police DepartmentTo play it extra safe, we recommend filing your FTC identity theft report with your local police department. You’ll probably need to bring a government-issued ID, proof of residence, and as much documentation on the theft as you can. If you don’t feel like you have enough “proof” just yet, you can hold off until the next stage, which is all about documenting the theft.
9. File a Claim with Your Identity Theft InsuranceNow that the most urgent business is over with, you should reach out to your identity theft insurance provider, if you have one. This will streamline their relief and assistance efforts once the time comes.
Stage 3: Recover Your IdentityTake a breather – the hard part is over. You’ve already minimized the threat and reported the crime to the FTC, so let’s get your life back to normal. In this phase, we’re going to focus on getting rid of fraudulent accounts and disputing fraudulent activity in real accounts.
10. Close New Accounts Opened in Your NameThe most important thing to do at this point is close down any accounts that the identity thief opened in your name. Now that you have your FTC identity theft report, this will be a breeze. Simply contact the affected business’ fraud department, explain your issue, and send them the FTC report. The FTC recommends asking the business for a letter confirming that the account isn’t yours, that you aren’t liable for it, and that it has been removed from your credit report.
11. Remove Any Changes from Existing AccountsOnce you’re done getting new fraudulent accounts removed, you can focus on disputing fraudulent charges in your existing accounts. The process is similar here: call the fraud department of each company, let them know what happened, send them your FTC report, and then have them confirm that the bogus activity is being removed.
12. Dispute Credit Report InaccuraciesThis will require writing a letter to each of the three credit bureaus explaining what happened and which entries are fraudulent. Here’s the FTC’s sample letter. Make sure you also provide proof of your identity and your FTC identity theft report.
13. Follow Up Initial Calls to Creditors With LettersNow it’s time to send dispute letters to creditors and other organizations where identity theft has occurred. Make sure you use their own dispute forms and include your identity theft affidavit. Also, consider adding a police report and a request for business records to your letter.
14. Replace SSN, Driver’s License, and other IDsIf your identity theft incident concerned a lost government-issued ID, such as a Social Security card (or number), driver’s license, or passport, then you should consider contacting the issuer and getting a replacement ID.
15. Stop False Debt Collection EffortsIf you’re being badgered by debt collectors about suspicious charges, your identity thief probably committed financial crimes in your name. The FTC recommends writing the debt collector using this sample and attaching your FTC identity theft report.
16. Contact Medical Care ProvidersMedical identity theft is a particularly disruptive crime. The FTC has some special recommendations if you’re a victim of this type of fraud. They suggest that you contact each doctor, clinic, hospital, pharmacy, and health plan affected by the fraud and ask for copies of services in your name. If you find discrepancies, write to your healthcare provider about them, including your FTC identity theft report.
17. Clear Your Name of Criminal ChargesIf you found fraudulent criminal charges attached to your name, you were a victim of criminal identity theft. Clearing your name can get a bit complicated in this case, so we recommend reading the FTC’s step-by-step process under the “clear your name of criminal charges” tab.
Stage 4: Managing the Aftermath of ID TheftYou can sit back now and rest assured that you’ve covered all of your bases in terms of ID theft response. Now, let’s take a look at making sure you never become a victim of identity theft again.
18. Protect Your Online InformationIdentity theft often starts on the internet, where thieves can browser an endless list of information on individuals from the comfort of their homes. Most of this data is stored and published on people-search sites, as we mentioned earlier. We recommend opting out of as many of these sites as possible using OneRep’s automated removal platform.
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19. Review Your Credit Reports RegularlyKeep in mind that your recovery journey might not be over yet. It can take credit reports a while to be updated, and some bureaus may have information that the others don’t have. This is why it’s important to check all three of your reports as frequently as you can for any fraudulent information that may have lagged behind.
20. Consider Adding an Extended Fraud AlertIf you’d like to double down on your security, consider placing an extended fraud alert on your credit report. This will enable a seven-year alert that will make it much harder for thieves to open accounts in your names since creditors will need to contact you in person or by phone before modifying or opening new services.
Wrapping It Up…
Identity theft doesn’t have to derail your life. By acting on it swiftly and thoroughly, you can get back to normal as soon as possible, better-informed of the tricks cybercriminals play to misuse your information.
We recommend that you bookmark this page for your future needs and share it with your friends and family so they know what to do too.