What to Do if Your Identity Has Been Stolen
Published April 10, 2012 | Updated June 8, 2016
One of the prices of being a part of the American economy is the ongoing risk of having your identity stolen. In 2014, -- the most recent year for which there is complete data -- it happened to over 17 million of your fellow citizens.
On one hand, that seems like a lot of people, but on the other, it’s only about one person in 14 among those ages 16 and over. Still, though, that is a frequent enough occurrence that you should be prepared to deal with the consequences should it happen to you. Remember that anyone can become a victim. Even careful people have had their credit card info stolen in restaurants and at retail stores. Hackers steal data from corporations and banks, and computer viruses steal data from personal computers.
Once it’s happened, your number-one goal is to go into damage control and make sure it does no lasting harm to your financial standing and reputation. If you discover that your information or identity has been compromised, act quickly to mitigate the damage. Here are the most important groups to contact:
Financial Institutions and Creditors
Contact every financial institution with which you do business -- as well as your creditors -- to close the affected accounts and open new ones. Change all personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords -- even on unaffected accounts.
Credit Reporting Agencies
Naturally, you want to be sure that your hard-earned credit score does not take a hit because of the actions of a criminal. Notify the fraud departments of any of the three major credit-reporting agencies. As soon as you do that, the agency you call will have a fraud alert sent out to the other two agencies within 24 hours. Be sure to get a free copy of your report while you’re at it and check it for any suspicious activities or inappropriate details.
In the not too distant future, you’ll also want to do some follow up to make sure things have remained as they should be. Order another report in six months and then at fairly regular intervals to make sure none of the fraudster’s activities have landed on the report. Report any problems to the correct agency. Their information is as follows:
Other Government Officials and Institutions
Many identity theft-related crimes go unreported to the authorities. While it is not necessary for you to file a report, it can’t hurt and could possibly help an ongoing investigation.
- Your Local Police File an identity theft report in the police jurisdiction where you live, especially if the fraud was local.
- Federal Trade Commission Visit FTC.gov to report the crime and fill out forms.
- Post Office Notify your local postal inspector if mail has been stolen. Mail theft is a federal crime and is taken very seriously.
- Social Security Administration Notify them if your Social Security number has been used by someone else.
- Internal Revenue Service If your Social Security number has been compromised, there may be some issues with the IRS as well.
Tips for Organizing Your Case
Remember that your financial institutions and creditors are on your side and will help you resolve this. Make the calls, follow up in writing, keep good records, and be persistent. Repairing the damage from identity theft can take time, but it can be done. Be sure to do the following:
- Document everything. Keep records of all correspondence or forms you send. Be sure to keep originals of supporting documentation like police reports and letters to and from creditors; send copies only.
- Record the name of anyone you talk to, what he or she said, and the date the conversation occurred.
- Set up a filing system for easy access to paperwork, and keep old files even if you believe your case is closed. Scan them and keep copies in a cloud-based data filing system.