What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen: Steps to Take

What Should I Do If I Become A Victim Of Identity Theft?

Identity theft happens when fraudsters use stolen personal information for their own gain. These thieves may open up new lines of credit, withdraw money from your current accounts or get your tax refund, among a myriad of other scams. Realizing you’re the victim of identity theft can be a scary, frustrating and isolating experience. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, it’s important to act quickly to protect your data identity.

Below are some common signs of identity theft and steps to get you on the path to recovery:

Signs of identity theft

Persistent thieves may use a variety of tactics to steal your identity. A common one is getting you to unsuspectingly reveal personal information by using phishing scams. Additionally, fraudsters may take  physical documents like bank or credit card statements or lost passports and Social Security cards.

Signs of fraud go beyond just unfamiliar charges on your credit cards. Though that is a telling sign of identity theft, you should also look out for suspicious activity on your credit report. This can include changes to your personal information you don’t recognize. Sudden suspicious mail for services you didn’t receive should raise alarm bells as well. They may be for accounts opened by fraudsters in your name.

Check list graphic with 3 steps to protect your credit. 1. Place a credit freeze and fraud alert on your credit reports. 2. Check your credit reports for accounts you don't recognize. 3. Dispute fraudulent activity on your credit reports.

How to report identity theft

It’s important to respond immediately to identity theft — this will limit the immediate damage and get you on the road to recovery sooner. When you realize your identity is stolen, you’ll need to gather resources and contact multiple institutions to report and remedy the situation.

Notify the company or agency

If you know where the theft occurred, contact that organization. If you’ve identified the suspicious account on your credit report, you will be able to find the company’s contact information in the account information section. Typically, financial institutions will have a dedicated fraud department you can contact. Banks can freeze your accounts to prevent unauthorized withdraws. You should lock credit cards and notify your bank to stop checks if needed.

Place a credit freeze or fraud alert

A free credit freeze on your credit reports can help prevent fraudsters from opening new accounts in your name. You can freeze your TransUnion credit report online quickly. You will need to freeze your report with each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies individually. Free protections and resources are included with the Fraud Victim Bill of Rights.

You should also considering adding a fraud alert to your credit report. There are some differences between a fraud alert and credit freeze. Fraud alerts can be done on top of a credit freeze, offering an extra layer of protection. Instead of completely keeping lenders out of your report, fraud alerts notify lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit in your name.

There are two types of fraud alerts, initial and extended. Identity theft victims can place an extended fraud alert, which lasts for seven years. When requesting to add an extended fraud alert, you also need to provide a support document. You can learn more about the requirements on our extended fraud alert page.

Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will help you set up a recovery plan and provide you with an identity theft report. Your bank may ask you to provide information or forms from your FTC recovery plan to confirm you’re not responsible for the fraudulent accounts. The FTC also explains the unique processes needed to report and recover from tax identity theft, child identity theft and medical identity theft. If you’re a victim of unemployment insurance fraud, the U.S. Department of Labor has a list of links to guide you to your state-specific reporting guidelines.

Report theft to local law enforcement

Depending on the circumstances, a copy of a police report may be needed to further confirm you’re not responsible for the fraud that has taken place. You can go to your local law enforcement agency to file a police report. It may help to bring along your FTC identity theft report along with other evidence of the crime and a form of identification. Providing your information to police will not only aid in your recovery efforts, but it also helps them spot potential identity theft patterns in your local community.

Check your credit report

Check your credit report for personal information, credit checks or accounts you don’t recognize. Free weekly copies from each of the three nationwide agencies are available online at annualcreditreport.com. Additionally, when you place an initial fraud alert, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies. An extended fraud alert entitles you to two free credit reports in the 12 months after you place the alert.

File credit disputes

You can dispute activity on your credit reports that is a result of fraud. Our online dispute process is fast, free and secure. Most dispute investigations are completed within two weeks, but some can take up to 30 days. While we investigate, continue to monitor your financial and online accounts for suspicious activity.         

Follow up

Be sure to follow up with companies you’ve been in contact with as they investigate your fraud claims. Throughout the process, document every interaction with the companies and agencies you talk to, keeping a log of all conversations and names.

Tighten security

Make sure to change all your passwords, even for accounts not directly used to sign into your financial institutions or those directly related to the fraud. Your passwords should be unique for each account, and don’t make them easy enough to guess. Another important habit is to consistently monitor your credit reports going forward. Staying on top of your credit report can help you spot potential signs of fraud early.

Protection for identity theft

Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. But as you move forward, you can be proactive about protecting yourself from identity theft and help keep fraudsters at bay. Even as a sense of normalcy arrives, remain on the lookout for suspicious behavior and reports of data breaches. You can use our Data Breach Resources for more information about how to protect yourself or recover from a data breach.  Consider credit monitoring and identity protection as part of your regular financial planning.

For additional support through the identity theft recovery process, TransUnion’s Fraud Companion Guide is a downloadable toolkit that can further help you plan and track your progress. 

Disclaimer: The information posted to this blog was accurate at the time it was initially published. We do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. The information contained in the TransUnion blog is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. You should consult your own attorney or financial adviser regarding your particular situation. This site is governed by the TransUnion Interactive privacy policy located here.

What You Need to Know:

The credit scores provided are based on the VantageScore® 3.0 model. Lenders use a variety of credit scores and are likely to use a credit score different from VantageScore® 3.0 to assess your creditworthiness.

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