What to do When Your Identity Has Been Stolen

By Dylan Donley, Spring 2014 Graduate Research Assistant

During National Consumer Protection Week, we brought you a number of different types of scams that you may run into in any aspect of your life:  looking for jobs, being approached for work in public places, and even trying to make your home or business more energy efficient.  Now, we’re going to take a look at what happens when you do fall victim to a scam that steals your personal information and how you can fix it.

It is entirely possible that you can fall victim to a scam without even knowing it.  The first signs of the theft you might see are unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account, you stop getting your bills or other mail, you actually receive bills for services you did not use, or debt collectors begin contacting your about debts you can’t explain, to name a few.

As soon as you see any of the initial signs of theft, Consumer.gov provides three steps to follow in order to ensure that you are able to ascertain the full extent of the fraud, to stop anyone trying to continue the fraud by opening account information in your name, and helps correct your credit report and accounts so you are not stuck with the charges the fraudster stuck you with.

(1)    Call one of the three credit reporting companies (e.g., Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) and ask for an initial fraud alert, which lasts for 90 days.  An initial fraud alert placed on your account informs businesses that they must contact you before they give someone credit in your name.

(2)    Ask all three credit reporting companies for a credit report, which they are required to do free of charge because your identity was stolen.

(3)    After receiving your credit reports and determining what fraud took place, you can create an Identity Theft Report by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (this is called an Identity Theft Affidavit) and filing a police report about the identity theft, attaching your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.  These documents together form the Identity Theft Report.

Beyond these initial steps, it is important to change the passwords and PINs on your accounts as well as send letters to each business that reported a charge or new account that you did not make, including a copy of your Identity Theft Report, explaining that you were the victim of identity theft, listing the mistaken charges or accounts opened and that you disagree with the charges, including any proof that you did not make the charges or open the account, and asking them to remove the fraudulent information or close the account.  You should also ensure that you set up a filing system to store the copies of your documents relating to the identity theft, any letters or calls you receive or submit relating to the identity theft, as well as any account related documents in order to maintain evidence of the theft in order to fix the damage done by the theft.

The key to remember in the event you become the victim of identity theft is to know that you are not alone.  Unfortunately, identity theft is a serious and prevalent crime that victimizes many.  Do not be afraid to speak up and report the theft – it is your identity and you can take ownership of it again.

For more information, see Consumer.gov’s Recovering from Identity Theft Guide as well as SaveandInvest.org’s Identity Theft Victims: Resolving Specific Problem Guide.