When you find yourself caught in the web of fraud and identity theft, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. The good news is you don’t have to face it alone.
There are dedicated support systems and valuable resources in place to help victims recover from identity theft. And when you act quickly with an identity theft recovery plan, you can minimize or repair any damage that has been done.
If you notice fraudulent transactions or other indications that your identity has been stolen, follow our 12-step guide.
Follow These Steps to Help Recover Your Identity and Restore Your Credit
1. Call Companies Where Fraudulent Transactions Took Place
Start by calling the companies where the fraudulent transactions took place. When reaching out, direct your inquiry to their fraud department if they have one.
Explain that you’ve had your identity compromised and did not make the purchases in question. Be sure to 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
Proactively reach out to any one of the three major credit bureaus – Experian®, Equifax®, or TransUnion® – and place a fraud alert. Whichever bureau you call is required to extend the alert to the other two bureaus.
You can do this for free and it will last for one year. If needed, you can have it renewed once it expires.
3. File a Police Report
Explain your situation to the police and let them know that you need to file a theft report. Ask for a copy and hold onto the report — it will help dispute charges later and help you dispute fraud on your credit report.
Here’s what you will need to bring:
- Government-issued identification.
- Proof of your address.
- A copy of your identity theft report.
- All available proof of theft.
4. File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission
Next, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can do this by filling out the form at IdentityTheft.gov, or by calling 877-438-4388.
You’ll be asked some questions about your situation and they will use that information to create a personal recovery plan for you. 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.
5. Freeze Your Credit
Placing a credit freeze can help you secure your credit report. A credit freeze limits access to your credit reports, which makes it more challenging for identity thieves to open accounts in your name.
To initiate a credit freeze, get in touch with the major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They may require you to provide proof of identity and other relevant information.
Once the credit freeze is active, lenders and creditors will need your authorization to access your credit report. This additional step adds an extra layer of security, preventing unauthorized accounts from being opened without your knowledge.
If you need to unfreeze your credit in the future, such as when applying for a loan or credit card, simply contact the credit bureaus again.
6. Review Your Credit Reports
Check your credit report for inaccuracies. Specifically, you’ll want to look for unauthorized credit inquiries, new credit lines, or changes to your personal information that you did not initiate.
If you do happen to spot any inaccuracies, you’ll want to dispute them with the credit bureaus and provide supporting documentation.
7. Monitor Your Credit Reports
Regularly monitor your credit reports in the aftermath of identity theft to catch and address any ongoing fraudulent activity.
With IdentityIQ 24-hour credit report monitoring, you get notified in real-time when there is possible suspicious activity detected, allowing you to act quickly when your identity is at risk.
You will receive prompt notifications of any suspicious changes made to your credit file that could signal identity theft. These include:
- New addresses
- New credit inquiries
- New accounts opened in your name
- Late payments
- Improvements to your file
- New employers
- New public record
8. Report and Close Newly Opened Accounts
To report and close newly opened fraudulent accounts, here’s what you should do:
- Contact the fraud department of each entity where the fraudulent activity took place. Provide them with all the necessary details and request the closure of the affected accounts.
- Ask these entities to provide you with written confirmation explicitly stating that the accounts were opened fraudulently. Ensure that the letters clearly indicate that you are not responsible for any charges incurred.
- If applicable, request the removal of the fraudulent account from your credit report.
- Keep the confirmation letters. They will serve as concrete evidence to support your claim if you need to dispute your credit report with any of the three credit bureaus in the future.
9. Remove Any Fraudulent Charges From Your Legitimate Accounts
To eliminate fraudulent charges from your legitimate accounts, follow these steps:
- Contact the fraud department of each account involved and notify them about the compromise of your identity. This step is similar to the previous one, but now your specific request should focus on the removal of the fraudulent charges rather than closing the entire account.
- Once the fraudulent charges have been identified, request the fraud department to provide you with written confirmation explicitly stating that those charges have been successfully removed. It’s crucial to keep this letter in a safe place for future reference.
- In some cases, you may be asked to provide a copy of your FTC report or fill out a dispute form to substantiate that the charges are not your responsibility. Be prepared to provide this documentation if required.
10. Report All Fraud To The Credit Bureaus
You’ll need to report the fraud to each of the three major credit bureaus separately. Include all information about fraudulently opened accounts and compromised legitimate accounts that now appear on your credit report.
Include proof of your identity, a copy of your FTC and police report, and request that any inaccurate information on your credit report be removed. After that, wait for the credit bureaus, your bank, and any other entities involved to process your claims.
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.
11. Tighten Security on Your Accounts
Follow these best practices to tighten the security of your accounts:
- Change the passwords for all your online accounts. Use strong and unique passwords.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available. This adds an extra layer of protection by requiring a verification code in addition to your password.
- Set the security settings for your online accounts to maximum security. This includes social media platforms, email accounts, and other online services.
- Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity, such as unrecognized transactions or unauthorized changes.
12. File a Claim With Your Identity Theft Insurance
If you’ve already invested in identity theft insurance, now you should take full advantage of it.
File a claim promptly. You should provide all the documentation and evidence you have related to the theft. This may include your police report, credit report, FTC report, and any other relevant supporting documents you have on hand.
Your insurance provider will guide you through the claims process. They understand the stress and frustration that comes with identity theft.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Identity Fraud?
Identity fraud refers to the use of someone else’s personal information without their consent. It involves impersonating the victim to commit fraudulent activities, such as financial fraud or criminal acts. The consequences of identity fraud can be severe, including financial loss, damage to credit scores, and emotional distress for the victims.
How Does Identity Fraud Happen?
There are several ways through which identity fraud can happen. This includes phishing, data breaches, skimming, shoulder surfing, dumpster diving, and social engineering.
How Can I Prevent Identity Fraud?
To help protect yourself from identity fraud, it’s important to be cautious with your personal information, use strong and unique passwords, monitor your credit and identity, and be vigilant against phishing attempts or suspicious activities.