How to Report Identity Theft
Becoming a victim of identity theft can feel like a nightmare. In fact, it’s estimated that financial and credit rating recovery from identity theft can take hundreds of hours across a period of at least six months. Full emotional and financial recovery can take years. This is why proper and immediate reporting of identity theft is essential.
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the signs of identity theft as well as the correct steps for reporting it. Knowing this information can save victims tremendous economic and psychological stress and help prevent further victimization by identity theft.
Signs You Are Victim of Identity Theft
The National Security Agency defines identity theft as “a crime that involves using another person’s personal information to take malicious actions, such as conducting fraud or stealing funds.” Essentially, identity thieves purposely obtain an individual’s personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, phone number, address, birthdate, social security number, or other personal data.
Their access to this information can result in impersonation of that individual in order to take money from bank accounts, make credit card charges, open new accounts, receive medical treatment, ruin reputations, and even commit other crimes. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware and understand the potential signs that you are a victim of identity theft.
Here are just a few signs of possible identity theft:
- Noticing missing wallet, credit cards, etc.
- Unexplained bank account activity
- Unexplained credit charges or new accounts
- Unfamiliar medical bills or debt collections
- Notification of suspected fraud, compromised information, or data breach by personal bank or other business
Any signs of possible identity theft or suspicious financial activity should never be ignored. Each moment that passes between recognizing potential identity theft and reporting it can result in devastating consequences and rapidly increasing damage.
Steps for Reporting Identity Theft
Realizing that you have been a victim of identity theft can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the steps to take for reporting identity theft and address them immediately.
- Make direct calls: If you are aware of specific accounts that have been affected, make notes and call the fraud departments of these companies directly. You can explain that your identity has been stolen so they can close or freeze your accounts. This eliminates the potential for any further account activity.
- Contact a major credit bureau: Contact one of the major credit bureaus to put in place a fraud alert. The bureau you contact will ensure the fraud alert is transferred to the other two bureaus as well. Here is the necessary information:
- Experian.com/help 888-397-3742
- TransUnion.com/credit-help 888-909-8872
- Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services 800-685-1111
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report identity theft by completing an online form at https://www.identitytheft.gov/Assistant# or call 877-438-4338. Make sure to include as much information and detail as possible. Based on your personal circumstances, IdentityTheft.gov will create a theft report and recovery plan for you. Once this report is created, it can be used as proof that you have been a victim of identity theft and allow you protection with certain rights.
Recovering from Identity Theft
Unfortunately, completing a report of identity theft in addition to alerting credit reporting agencies and other businesses where you have accounts is just the beginning of the recovery from this crime. It is sadly up to the victim to actively repair each individual source of damage. This involves dedicated and often tedious work that can mean hours of making phone calls and searching online.
Here is a brief list of tasks that are likely to be involved with identity theft recovery:
- Change all login information for accounts, including usernames, passwords, and PINS
- Close any accounts that have been opened using your PII
- Work with credit bureaus to correct any misinformation on your credit report
- Research any utilities, insurance claims, banking accounts, and other possible fraudulent activity associated with your PII
It’s essential once you have an official identity theft report from the FCC to contact all possible business fraud departments associated with your personally identifiable information. This process is labor intensive, but necessary for recovery. In each instance, you need to explain that someone has stolen your identity and request that every business send you written confirmation by mail that any fraudulent account activity isn’t yours and that you aren’t liable for such activity. Make sure to get confirmation that fraudulent activity will be removed by the business from your credit report as well.
Keep a log of the name of the business, phone number, date of contact, representative’s name, and all account or confirmation numbers each time you make a call. Safely file and keep any written correspondence. Have your FTC identity theft report accessible at all times. Be sure to follow up continually with businesses, credit reporting agencies, etc., until recovery is complete.
Avoiding Identity Theft
Though anyone can be a target, the safest action for dealing with identity theft is to do everything possible to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Thankfully, there are actions that individuals can take to help reduce risk and prevent identity theft. These actions also take effort, but they can help people avoid the hardship and heartache of being identity theft victims.
The best way to avoid identity theft is to limit any sharing of personally identifiable information online. This may include deactivating and/or deleting all social media accounts as well as unnecessary mobile apps on devices and non-essential online accounts. The less PII presence you have online, the less risk you face of becoming a victim of identity theft.
In addition, you may also want to consider using a professional data removal service. These are professional services that you can hire and pay to have your phone number or other PII removed from the internet. Although there is no guarantee that any professional service has the capability of removing all traces of your personal data from online, they have expertise in data removal and monitoring that most people don’t. This can save you time and effort and lead to greater peace of mind when it comes to identity theft.