8 Steps to Take When Your Identity Is Stolen

by Dana George | Published on Aug. 2, 2021

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There are processes in place to help you take control the moment you learn your identity has been stolen.

You receive a bill for a credit card you don't recognize or notice that funds have been drawn from your bank account without your knowledge. Suddenly, it hits you that you are one of the 9 million Americans -- as estimated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) -- to have their identity stolen this year. You naturally begin to wonder who might have it. Was it a co-worker, a family member, or a complete stranger? Perhaps the credit card fraud department can track that. Right now, you have a job to do. According to the FTC, it's up to you to recover your identity and stop the damage to your reputation and credit. Here are the steps you need to take.

1. Freeze your account

Once you receive a bill or late notice you don't recognize, call the number listed. Explain that your identity has been stolen, and ask them to immediately freeze the account. Once they've done that, they can add no new charges without your approval.

Important note: Do not provide any personal information (like your address, phone number, or Social Security number) to a company you don't recognize. Even if you do recognize the name of the company (Mastercard, for example) double-check online to ensure the number on the bill or notice belongs to the actual company. Depending on which accounts were stolen, the company may ask you to contact them again after you have an FTC Identity Theft Report (more on that in a moment).

2. Change your passwords

Change logins, passwords, and PINS for each of your accounts. It's a hassle and may take hours but can prevent further theft. Try not to repeat passwords for multiple accounts, as that makes it easier for thieves to break into more than one account. You can also use a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols (rather than familiar words like pet names) to help protect yourself.

3. Alert a credit bureau to the fraud

Place a fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus. When you’ve contacted one, it must tell the other two. It's free to place a fraud alert, and putting one in place will make it more difficult for someone to open another account in your name.

Contact any of these three bureaus:

Experian

Experian.com/help

888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

P.O. Box 9554

Allen, TX 75013

Equifax

Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services

800-685-1111

P.O. Box 105069

Atlanta, GA 30348-5069

TransUnion

TransUnion.com/credit-help

888-909-8872

Fraud Victim Assistance Department

P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19016

4. Get your credit report

Order your credit reports from all three bureaus by going to annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. Until April 2022, you can get free copies of your credit reports from all the bureaus. Go over each report with a fine-tooth comb, looking for any charges that are not your own. Highlight or circle anything that's unfamiliar to you.

5. Contact the FTC

Report the theft to the FTC. Call 877-438-4338 or complete this online form. Add as many details as possible. Once it has the information, the FTC's IdentityTheft.gov will create an Identity Theft Report and recovery plan. You'll need that report to prove to businesses that someone stole your identity and that recent charges do not belong to you.

6. Loop in the local authorities

File a copy of the Identity Theft Report with your local police department. In addition to the report, you'll need to take a photo ID, proof of address (a bill or mortgage statement will do the trick), and any proof of the theft. For example, you may take the bill or late notice that first alerted you to the issue. Ask for a copy of the police report.

7. Contact businesses where you identity was used

Work the phones. Call any businesses where an account was opened, explain that your identity was stolen and ask the business to close the account. Also ask each business to send you a letter confirming that:

  • The fraudulently opened account does not belong to you
  • You are not responsible for any charges made
  • They have removed any remarks from your credit report

File all correspondence in one place so you can easily locate it if needed.

8. Update the credit bureaus

Write a letter to each of the credit bureaus (at the addresses listed above). Include a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report and proof of ID. Make sure they have your name, address, and Social Security number. Next:

  • Point out which information on their credit report is a result of identity theft
  • Ask them to block the fraudulent information

What to do if the issue runs deeper

Depending on which pieces of personal information were stolen, you may need to take other steps, including:

  • Report a misused Social Security number
  • Stop debt collectors
  • Replace government-issued IDs
  • Clear your name of criminal charges

The FTC takes matters of identity theft seriously and is the first, best resource for all things identity-theft related. As stressed as you may be, don't become discouraged. There are safeguards in place designed to help you sort things out and get back to enjoying life.

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