Identity Theft Recovery Plan: Start with Your Credit Report
If your personal information has been compromised, maybe by a data breach or stolen credit card, check your bank accounts for fraudulent activity immediately. You may be a victim of id theft. If you see fraudulent charges, you may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or even lost. It’s difficult to know what exactly what has been lost: money, personally identifiable information, and even your credit could be in jeopardy.
Fortunately, there are support systems and resources available for victims of identity theft. Creating an identity theft recovery plan will reduce or recover any damage done.
If you notice fraudulent transactions or other indications that your identity was stolen, here is what to do as recommended by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
Immediate Actions to Take to Restore Your Identity
1. Call companies where fraudulent transactions took place.
Ask for the fraud department if they have one. Explain that you’ve had your identity compromised and did not make the purchases. Request that they close or freeze the account you have with them to prevent any new charges, and change your passwords and PINs for all accounts.
2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and order a copy.
Contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert after you order your free credit report. Whichever company you call is required to extend the alert to the other two bureaus. It’s free and will last for one year. If needed, you can have it renewed at the end of the year-long period.
3. Report the identity theft to the FTC.
You can do this by filling out the form at IdentityTheft.gov, or by calling 1-877-438-4388. It will create an identity theft report and recovery plan based on your situation.
If you create an account on the FTC website, it will update the recovery plan as needed, track progress, and assist with any forms or letters when necessary. You may need to call the companies where the fraud occurred again after obtaining the report.
4. File a police report.
Explain your situation to the police and state that you need to file a theft report. Ask for a copy and hold onto the report — it will help dispute charges later and fix your credit report.
You will need to bring:
- Government-issued identification
- Proof of your address
- A copy of your identity theft report
- All available proof of theft
- A copy of the FTC’s memo to law enforcement
Disputing Charges and Recover Your Credit
1. Close any fraudulent accounts that were opened in your name.
Now that you have the FTC report, you are better equipped to share your situation with any businesses or banks necessary, which is crucial to recovering credit after identity theft. Call the fraud department of each entity where the fraud occurred, give them all the info, and request that the accounts be closed.
Ask for letters that confirm the accounts were opened fraudulently. Make sure they state that you aren’t liable for any charges incurred. If applicable, ask for the account to be removed from your credit report.
Keep the letters! If you need to dispute your credit report in the future with any of the three credit bureaus, you’ll have proof on your side.
2. Remove any fraudulent charges from your legitimate accounts.
Call the fraud department and tell them your identity was compromised. This is mostly the same as the previous step, except here you’ll only ask for fraudulent charges to individually be removed, instead of closing the entire account.
Again, ask for a letter confirming the fraudulent charges have been removed and hold onto it for later. It may be the case that you’ll need to provide a copy of your FTC report or fill out a dispute form to prove any charges aren’t your responsibility.
3. Recover Your Credit.
You’ll need to write to each of the three major credit bureaus separately — you can use the FTC’s sample letter for this. Include all information about fraudulently opened accounts and compromised legitimate accounts that now appear on your credit report. Include proof of your identity, as well as a copy of your FTC report, and request that any inaccurate information on your credit report be blocked.
After taking all of these steps at your financial institutions: you’re in the home stretch. Now wait for the credit bureaus, your bank, and any other entities involved to process your claims.
It may be a good idea to set an extended fraud alert on your credit report, which lasts for 7 years and comes at no charge, or a credit freeze to keep any new accounts from being opened while you recover.
You can’t prevent every instance of identity theft from occurring, but you can actively monitor your credit to protect your identity and respond before real damage occurs.