Dealing with Identity Theft

How to report identity theft and what you can do next.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you should know that things can be made right. It can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Despite security in place all over the internet and beyond, identity thieves may still find a way to get your name and address, account numbers or Social Security information. From there, they could use this information to make purchases with your credit card, open new accounts or do a number of other things that can impact your life.1

If it happens to you, you have options. By taking the right steps, you can work out what to do if your identity is stolen, take back control and learn how to recover from identity theft.

Step 1: Contact your bank(s)
Step 2: Work with the credit bureaus
Step 3: Report the identity theft to authorities
Step 4: Close fraudulent accounts and replace IDs
Step 5: Fix your credit report
Step 6: Prevent future fraud

As you start the identity recovery process, you may want to bookmark this page so you can return to complete these steps to fix identity theft. You may also want to get a file folder to stay organized because you’ll be getting important papers in the mail.

Step 1: Contact your bank(s)

If you suspect fraud, contact your bank or credit cards’ fraud departments to report identity theft. They can usually help freeze or close the affected accounts and stop any new charges, which can help limit the damage.2

If one account is compromised, others might be in danger, too. You may want to closely examine every account—even the ones you don’t use very often—for fraudulent charges. A good way to do this is to take a look at each transaction on your monthly statements. This process may be time-consuming, but it’s better to catch something sooner than later. If you see suspicious activity from a business, contact their fraud department either online or by calling customer service.

Next, you may want to change your PINs, login information and passwords associated with your affected accounts and any others that may use the same password. This way, if your imposter tries to access your information again, it won’t be easy for them.3

These actions can be helpful in reducing further damage from identity theft, so you can move on to fixing the problem.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • Accounts locked
  • Updated login and security information

Step 2: Work with the credit bureaus

A credit report is a statement with specific information about your credit situation. Reviewing your credit reports from the 3 major credit bureaus can help you recognize identity theft and other potential security issues that may have occurred.4 Someone may have applied for credit cards, gotten an auto loan or used your credit in some other way you didn’t realize.3

Once you’ve reviewed your reports, place a fraud alert with one of the 3 credit bureaus: Experian®, TransUnion® or Equifax®. Whichever company you contact will be required to notify the others to place a fraud alert in their reports as well.2 Each credit bureau should then send you a letter to confirm they have put an alert on your reports, so keep an eye out for them in your mailbox.2

Putting a fraud alert on your credit report is free and should make it more difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name.2 This temporary inconvenience can be worth it because the fraud alert can help keep your identity safe and limit any further damage.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • A confirmation letter of fraud alert from each of the 3 credit bureaus

Step 3: Report the identity theft to authorities

After notifying the credit bureaus, it’s time to let the government know what’s going on. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency in charge of protecting consumers from deceptive, unfair business practices. It’s also where you report identity theft.5 File your identity theft with the FTC by visiting identitytheft.gov.6

The FTC will then provide a personalized recovery plan and Identity Theft Report. This report will help guarantee certain rights. You’ll need it to get false information removed from your credit report and keep debt collectors from contacting you.2

Next, you can file a police report. You may need it to repair the damage done to your credit. To let the authorities know something is wrong, you’ll provide the following:2

  • Your FTC Identity Theft Report
  • A government ID
  • Proof of your address (mortgage statement, utilities bill, etc.)
  • Proof of the theft (bills, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notices, etc.)

It may take a few weeks, but with the authorities and formal documentation on your side, you should have what you need to start fixing the mistakes.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • Personalized recovery plan from the FTC
  • Identity Theft Report from the FTC
  • Police report

Step 4: Close fraudulent accounts and replace IDs

When considering what to do after identity theft, closing accounts that were set up without your permission is extremely important. These accounts would not exist if your identity hadn’t been compromised. If you receive a bill from a company or notice an unfamiliar business on your credit report, simply contact those businesses’ fraud departments. You’ll need to provide each business with a copy of your Identity Theft Report—which you have thanks to Step 3.2

After working with the company, you can request a confirmation letter from their fraud department that says the following:

  • The account isn’t yours
  • You’re not liable for anything related to the account
  • The account was removed from your credit report

Once you get these confirmation letters, hold onto them and reference them if you ever see the fraudulent account appear on your credit report.2

If your identity was compromised because someone stole your Social Security number or official ID like a driver’s license or passport, you’ll have to resolve these issues, too. For Social Security, you can double-check your information by creating an account at ssa.gov and see if someone has tried to use your number. If you notice anything unusual, contact the Social Security Administration.2

If your driver’s license or passport was lost or stolen, you’ll want to get a replacement. Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles to replace your license and contact the State Department for a new passport.2 Getting your new ID or clearing up issues with your Social Security number can help set you up with a clean slate after your identity theft.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • Closure confirmation letter(s) from any company where a fraudulent account was opened
  • New government IDs (if necessary)

Step 5: Fix your credit report

You notified the credit bureaus of fraud a while ago (Step 2), and now it’s time to see how to fix identity theft and get the fraudulent information removed from your reports altogether. You can start by looking at your credit report and identifying the incorrect information you want to remove, like loans or credit cards you never applied for.

To report any mistakes, send a letter to each of the 3 credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—with a copy of your Identity Theft Report, a state ID and an explanation of the fraudulent information with a request to block it.2

If you provide your Identity Theft Report (from Step 3) and request the credit bureaus to block and remove any fraudulent information, they have to do it.2

If you still feel vulnerable to additional credit theft, you have the option to request an extended fraud alert or even a credit freeze. The initial fraud alert you requested in Step 2 is only good for 90 days. But getting an extended fraud alert is free and can last for 7 years, which will give you more time to correct the situation.2

A credit freeze is even more restrictive. The credit bureaus won’t share your report with anyone who requests it, making it impossible for anyone (including yourself) to open new accounts in your name. A credit freeze will last until you ask to have it removed and has no additional fees.7

At this point, your name should be cleared and all the fraudulent information removed, allowing you to move forward with clean credit reports.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • Accurate credit reports

Step 6: Prevent future fraud

Now that you know how to correct identity theft, you may want to know how to stop identity theft from happening again and what additional steps could provide further protection.

One great way to do this is with regular credit monitoring. When you’re familiar with your credit report, you’ll notice when something seems off.8

These simple steps can also help:8

  • Keep your Social Security card in a safe place (somewhere other than your wallet)
  • Collect your mail daily so no one else can pick it up
  • Use security features on your smartphone
  • Be extra careful when using public Wi-Fi because it may not be secure

You can also find identity theft counseling services with the Identity Theft Council, a non-profit, national network that offers support for victims.9

Taking a few preventative steps can help keep you protected and hopefully avoid having to go through this process again.

By the end of this step, you should have:

  • An understanding of habits to help prevent future fraud
  • Counseling services (if necessary)

Having your identity stolen is frustrating, but you can handle it. Knowing how to report identity theft and what to do about it means you can start feeling more in control. The process may seem complex—there is certainly a lot involved—but if you follow these steps, you can help restore your credit, reclaim your identity and be better prepared for the future.


This site is for educational purposes. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

Citations

  1. Avoiding Identity Theft. (2017, June 05). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.consumer.gov/articles/1015-avoiding-identity-theft

  2. Identity Theft: A Recovery Plan. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009_identitytheft_a_recovery_plan.pdf

  3. 10 Things to Do If Your Identity is Stolen. (2018, June 22). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/2018-06-22/10-things-to-do-immediately-after-your-identity-is-stolen

  4. “What is a Credit Report?” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/what-is-a-credit-report-en-309

  5. About the FTC. (2018, November 06). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from” https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc

  6. Recovering from Identity Theft. (2018, September 19). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.consumer.gov/articles/1016-recovering-identity-theft

  7. Herron, J., & Shell, A. (2018, October 05). Freezing your credit is free in all states under a new law following Equifax breach. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/09/21/equifax-free-credit-freeze-new-law/1377815002/

  8. Identity Theft. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft#item-206114

  9. O’Farrell, N. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from: https://www.identitytheftcouncil.org/about-us/about-us.html

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