Dealing with identity theft
How to report identity theft and what you can do next
September 28, 2022 6.5 min read
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)
If you suspect fraud, contact your bank or credit cards’ fraud departments to report identity theft.2 Your bank may be able to help you through the process, and you can ask them to close or freeze affected accounts.3
If one account is compromised, others might be in danger, too. You may want to closely examine all your accounts—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.
Next, you may want to change your PINs, sign-in 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.
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.
Once you’ve reviewed your reports, place a fraud alert with one of the 3 credit bureaus: Experian®, TransUnion® or Equifax®. Whichever bureau you contact will be required to notify the others to place a fraud alert in their reports as well.5 Each credit bureau should then send you a letter to confirm they have put an alert on your reports.3
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.3 This temporary inconvenience can be worth it, because the fraud alert can help keep your identity safe and limit any further damage.
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.6 You can report identity theft to the FTC by visiting identitytheft.gov or calling 877-438-4388.3
The FTC will then provide a personalized recovery plan and identity theft report. This report will help guarantee certain rights. And you may need it to get false information removed from your credit report and keep debt collectors from contacting you.3
Next, you can file a police report. Visit your local police office and bring the following:3
- Your FTC identity theft report.
- A government photo ID
- Proof of your address (mortgage statement, rental agreement or utility bill)
- Proof of the theft (bills, IRS notices)
It may take some time, but with the authorities and formal documentation on your side, you should have what you need to start fixing the mistakes.
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.3 You may need to provide each business with a copy of your identity theft report from Step 3.
When you reach out, explain your identity was stolen and ask the business to close the account.3 After working with the company, you can request a letter to confirm:
- 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.3 It’s also a good idea to keep a record of who you contacted and when you did it.
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 issues, you can double-check your information by creating an account at ssa.gov. If you notice anything unusual, contact your local Social Security Administration office.3
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.3 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.
Step 5: Fix your credit report
You notified the credit bureaus of fraud during Step 2, and now it’s time to see how to remove errors from your reports altogether. You can start by looking at your credit reports and identifying the incorrect information you want to remove, like loans or credit cards you never applied for.
To report an error, contact the credit bureau and the company that provided the information.7 You can visit the Consumer Financial Protection bureau for detailed information about how to dispute credit reporting errors. It has detailed instructions, template letters and contact information for each major bureau—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
If you want extra peace of mind, you could consider placing credit freezes on your reports. But unlike fraud alerts, you need to contact each credit bureau to place a credit freeze.5 And credit freezes will stay in place until you remove them.
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.
Having your identity stolen is frustrating, but 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.