DISCLAIMER: This article is provided for informational purposes only. This is not legal advice. Taking the actions specified in this article does not guarantee resolution of identity theft issues.
Being the victim of identity theft can disrupt your entire existence. What you do right after it happens can make the difference in how quickly you can begin to put everything back together. You must act quickly and according to a plan to both protect yourself and rebuild your life. Otherwise, you could end up in debt and with poor credit.
Act Quickly to Save Your Credit
When you know that someone has your personal information, you must act quickly to cut your potential liability. The first thing to do is to speak with the companies where you know that someone has used your name to run up credit. You may not be legally responsible for paying these bills, but you must talk to the companies quickly to protect yourself.
Request Credit Reports
One major handicap is that you may not even know the extent of the damage that a fraudster has done to you. The way to learn is by requesting credit reports so that you can see where someone has opened up credit using your personal information. Each of the three major credit bureaus allows you to receive one free credit report each year. Get one from each of the companies so you can see exactly what has happened to you.
Report the Identity Theft
You must also report identity theft to qualify for full legal protection. You do not have to pay debts run up in your name, but you will need a copy of the identity theft report to prove that you were a victim of criminal activity. You may need to present this report to numerous creditors as you deal with the fallout.
The first place to go to report the crime is the Federal Trade Commission. You can visit their website to find and fill out the form to report identity theft. They may not go to work to catch the criminal, but they are where to go when you need protection from the effects of identity theft.
Then, you will want to file a police report with your local law enforcement. They could enter the information into a database that could allow police to identify the fraudster if they are ever caught using your information. Report the fraud to as many law enforcement agencies as you can to increase the chances that the perpetrator is caught.
Work to Establish and Follow a Recovery Plan
Once you have reported the crime, you will need to figure out how to protect and reestablish yourself. Every identity theft victim needs a recovery plan to limit the damage and start anew. The good news is that when you visit Identitytheft.gov, you can get help with the steps that you need to take. You can even get pre-filled out letters and detailed checklists to help you through the process.
Put a Credit Freeze on Your Accounts
Another immediate step is to place a credit freeze on your accounts. This would keep anyone from opening up new accounts in your name. It would also prevent a criminal from misusing your existing accounts. You may also want to get a new credit card number to be absolutely safe.
Change Account Passwords
You may wish to consider changing the passwords for all of your accounts. Even if you think that some of your accounts are safe, you never quite know how the criminal gained access to your accounts. They may even have put spyware on your computer. Make a list of every single one of your accounts that require a password and change account access. Use a very strong password for each one that has nothing to do with family members or birthdays.
Protect Your Credit With an Extended Fraud Alert
Once you have filed your report with the FTC, you also have the ability to put an extended fraud alert on your accounts. This option is only available to identity theft victims. This allows you to receive two extra credit reports. You would use these to see if anyone else has opened up new accounts. It also takes you off the list for receiving prescreened offers of credit that criminals could intercept and use.
Get a New Social Security Number
Depending on the extent of the identity theft, you may need to apply for a new Social Security number. Not everyone is allowed to get a new number. You would need to show evidence that someone has stolen your number or is improperly using it. Theft of your Social Security number can cause serious effects, so you should err on the side of caution in trying to ask for a new number.
Contact the IRS
Finally, you may also want to let the IRS know about the identity theft. One common thing that thieves do is file a tax return in your name to get a bogus tax refund. To protect yourself and your tax refund, you should add calling the IRS to your checklist, even if you have no evidence that someone actually tried to file a return in your name.
As aggravating as identity theft is, it’s best to act quickly. Doing so protects you and helps stop some of the damage that criminals can do with your personal information.