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What Do I Do If My Identity Has Been Stolen
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If your driver’s license number, social security number, or other personally identifiable information is stolen, it’s important to know what steps to take and act as soon as possible.
Most identity theft occurs through cyberattacks, such as phishing emails, smishing text messages and malware, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
If you discover the breach early and act without delay, you can minimize the damage to your finances and/or your reputation. Here are the steps to take if your identity is stolen:
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“Report your stolen ID to the issuing agency immediately,” says John Buzzard, chief fraud and security analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research.
If your bank account is damaged, contact your bank. If your credit card number is stolen, notify the credit card issuing institution. Contact the Social Security Administration if your Social Security number has been compromised.
“Don’t delay this process,” Buzzard said. “If a criminal commits a crime using your identification, the authorities may visit you, especially if the ID was physically left or recorded during the commission of the crime.”
Contact each of the major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and request a freeze or fraud alert on your credit file. These powerful tools are free and won’t affect your credit score.
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A credit freeze prevents third parties from accessing your credit. So, if you apply for a mortgage and have a freeze on your credit file, the lender cannot check your credit unless you lift the freeze.
However, there are exceptions. Employers and landlords who conduct background checks, a collection agency working for a company you owe money to, and federal, state, and local government agencies may still have access to your credit. Read the freeze details for each reporting bureau.
A credit freeze also does not prohibit the credit monitoring service you choose to check your credit.
A fraud alert initially lasts for a year and requires potential lenders to contact you to verify your identity before extending credit.
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The FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov takes you step-by-step through the identity theft reporting process. Reports are tailored to specific breaches of trust, whether it’s a stolen social security number or other personally identifiable information.
The FTC does not investigate identity theft. Instead, it supports and facilitates the investigation and prosecution of ID theft by serving as a clearing house for reports of ID theft.
It’s a good idea to report the crime to your local police if an identity thief displays your credentials during a traffic stop or arrest. Also report to banks and other companies where they may ask for your identity.
Obtain copies of all documentation used to fraudulently open accounts in your name, make purchases or conduct other illegal business. Submit the request in writing.
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If identity theft involves the IRS and your taxes, fill out this form to request a copy of the fraudulent tax return.
Ask each of the major credit bureaus for a free copy of your credit report. Read each report carefully and check for unauthorized accounts and errors.
Write to the bureaus and ask them to correct the mistakes and explain what happened. Provide documents to support your request and keep copies of everything. Send your letters and papers by certified mail, with a “return receipt” so you can verify that the bureaus received your requests. They have 30 days to investigate after receiving your request.
It is never a good idea to use the same password for a long time. Many businesses recommend regular password changes for their employees.
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Create complex passwords for accounts, use at least 12 characters. Consider using a password manager, which is a great tool for creating, storing, and securing passwords. Multifactor authentication, which inserts another step such as fingerprint verification into the verification process, adds protection.
Some logins cannot be changed. This could be your first and last name, for example. But if you can change logins after identity theft, do it.
You never know where identity thieves will use your stolen credentials, so try to stay ahead of them by warning of the places they might strike. “A thief will try to monetize your data in as many ways as they can,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Even if it wasn’t your Social Security number or Taxpayer Identification Number that was stolen, the IRS will notify you that you are a victim of identity theft, if applicable. Fill out IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, and check the box in Section B that says:
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I don’t know if someone used my information to fraudulently file taxes, but I am a victim of identity theft.
Notify your state Department of Motor Vehicles, health insurance companies, mortgage companies and other places where your stolen identity could benefit a thief.
If you have an identity theft insurance plan, file a claim. Some ID theft protection services are good at helping victims complete paperwork, make phone calls, and take other steps to restore their identity.
Credit monitoring is a service that checks your credit files for suspicious activity and notifies you. CreditWise from Capital One is free. Experian also has a free credit monitoring service.
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Many credit monitoring services are offered as part of a larger identity theft insurance package, for which you must pay. These services usually cast a wider net to look for fraudulent activity using your name. Besides credit history, they can monitor social media, sex
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