Protect Your Identity and Data

What to Do Immediately if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

  • 7 Minute Read
  • Shares

As soon as you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft, take the following steps.

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make certain changes to your existing accounts. You can place an initial 90-day fraud alert by contacting one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. (Note: You only have to call one company. That company will contact the others.)

Placing a fraud alert allows you to get free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts you can't explain.

2. Request a credit freeze, which restricts access to your credit report.

This means that when potential creditors contact any of the three credit reporting companies, they will not be able to get a report: and most creditors will not approve a new account or loan before they take a look at your credit. You can lift the freeze for specific parties so that you can still open a new account, but the freeze means that if the criminals stole your identity they will have a harder time opening new accounts.

To request a freeze, you need to contact each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Then, when you want to lift the freeze, you will need to contact them again. There is a cost to freeze your credit, which varies depending on the state you live in, but usually it isn't more than $10.

3. Close any account you believe has been tampered with and cancel your credit and debit cards.

Call the security or fraud department of each bank, financial institution and company. It's important to follow up in writing, and include copies of supporting documents. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Other tips include:

  • Use the Identity Theft Affidavit at identitytheft.gov to support your written statement.
  • Ask the company holding your account to verify in writing that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
  • Keep copies of all documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
  • When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number.

4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Use the online complaint form at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

You may want to provide a printed copy of your complaint form to the police to incorporate into their police report.

5. File a police report.

You will want to request several copies, as the report will provide proof of the crime to creditors and banks who may request it.

6. Monitor your credit report quarterly until the problem is resolved.

Then return to monitoring it annually.

What if you follow these steps and are still experiencing problems with identity theft?

There are cases where people do everything right and still spend years dealing with problems related to identity theft. The good news is that most people can get their cases resolved by being diligent, assertive and organized. Remember:

  • Don't procrastinate on contacting companies to address the problems.
  • Don't be afraid to go up the chain of command or make complaints, if necessary.
  • Keep organized files.
  • If you haven't filed a complaint with the FTC or updated it, you should do so and provide details of the problems that you are having.
  • If your problems are the result from a failure of a party to perform its legal obligations, you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in such violations.

If the theft wasn't financial

Criminals have many ways of using your personal information. If your issues are not financial in nature, the steps you need to take will be different. Review these steps for what to do for common non-financial identity theft crimes:

Someone steals your passport.

  1. Contact the U.S. Department of State (USDS) Passport Services.
  2. Complete, sign and return Form DS-64, Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport. This form can now be submitted online.

Someone has been arrested using your identity, or there is a warrant for your arrest for criminal charges you didn't commit.

  1. Contact the police or sheriff's department that arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the arrest warrant.
  2. File an impersonation report and have your identity confirmed. The law enforcement agency should recall warrants and issue a clearance letter or certificate of release (if you were arrested or booked.) Keep the document with you at all times in case you are wrongly arrested.
  3. Ask the law enforcement agency to issue an amended complaint by filing the record of your innocence with the district attorney's office and/or the court where the crime took place.

Note: You should consider hiring an attorney to help you with this complicated process of clearing your name.

Someone commits tax fraud using your identity.

  1.  Respond immediately to any IRS notice you have received or call the IRS toll free at 877-777-4778.
  2. Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if your return is rejected because of a duplicate filing.

Someone uses your identity to get health care benefits or access your medical records.

  1. Call your health care insurance provider to review your records and determine what is accurate.
  2. File a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
Resources

All Learning Center Topics

View all Learning Center topics.

Legal Glossary

Find definitions of legal terms.