The worst has happened.
An identity thief has stolen your personal information (Social Security number, credit card number, or other data) and used it to commit fraud, impersonate you, or make unauthorized purchases.
What do you do now?
It’s not something the average person thinks about often, but identity theft happens all the time. But while it’s nothing new, identity theft has increased significantly over the past two years, in part due to changes brought about by the pandemic.
In 2021, data compromises in the U.S. were up more than 68% over 2020—23% over the previous all-time high.
If your identity is stolen, it’s important to act quickly to reduce the damage identity thieves can cause. Here are the first steps you should take to recover your stolen identity.
1. Report the Stolen Identity to the FTC and Police
First, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. While the FTC doesn’t pursue criminal charges, they do gather data about identity theft, and can provide you with information that law enforcement agencies can use to help track down thieves.
When you report the identity theft to the FTC, you’ll receive a recovery plan with next steps to take as well as pre-filled forms and letters you can use to file police reports and dispute any fraudulent charges.
Once you report the theft to the FTC, you’ll need to file a report with your local police. Ask for a copy of the report for your records—you may need this documentation as you work to recover your identity. Plus, it creates a paper trail: if someone uses your personal information to commit a crime, the identity theft documentation could help you more easily resolve the issue.
2. Check Your Financial Accounts and Credit Reports for Fraudulent Charges
Log into your bank and credit card accounts online to look for charges or other activity you don’t recognize. Don’t forget any accounts you haven’t used in a while or only use occasionally.
In addition, request a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. (You are legally entitled to one free credit report per year.) Check it over, looking for accounts you didn’t open and other suspicious activity.
If you do find suspicious charges, accounts, or other unusual activity, contact your bank or credit card company to dispute the charges and ask to have your accounts locked or closed.
Moving forward, get in the habit of routinely checking your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity. Identity thieves often make small attempts at compromising your security before they determine it’s safe to make larger attempts, so watch for even the most minor of questionable activity.
3. Contact Companies Where Your Stolen Information Was Used
Contact each company where your information was used to create new accounts (banks, credit card companies, etc). Explain you’re a victim of identity theft and ask to have the accounts closed.
If you receive bills or charges from companies you don’t recognize, contact them to let them know you didn’t authorize the transactions. If your credit card was used, contact the credit card company as well, and have them issue you a new credit card.
If the thieves used your information to create fake identity records, you’ll need to contact the agencies involved, such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, or Secretary of State’s office.
You may also want to proactively alert other companies that your identity has been stolen, such as your insurance companies (health, auto, home, life), in case the thief attempts to use your name or policy number to obtain benefits.
4. Request a Credit Freeze and Fraud Alert
Next, contact the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to request a credit freeze and/or fraud alert. Here’s the difference:
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report and blocks creditors from processing applications to open new accounts using your data. This doesn’t affect your credit score, and you can unfreeze your credit at any time.
You’ll need to contact all three credit bureaus separately (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to request credit freezes.
Note: a credit freeze is also a great way to protect your kids from identity theft. If their Social Security number is compromised, you may not realize it until years later (when you try to open a bank account for them, for instance). A credit freeze will prevent anyone from opening accounts with your child’s Social Security number.
A fraud alert prevents additional accounts from being opened using your information, but doesn’t completely restrict access to your credit report. When you have a fraud alert placed on your credit, businesses have to verify your identity before offering credit in your name.
You only have to contact one credit bureau for a fraud alert—they will extend the alert to the remaining bureaus. A fraud alert remains on your credit file for a year, and won’t affect your credit score.
5. Tighten Your Account Security
You’ll also need to tighten up your account security, both online and off. Here are a few things to start with:
- Change your passwords on all of your online accounts, including financial and insurance accounts, and even social media.
- Use a password manager to ensure your accounts have strong passwords.
- DON’T use the same password on multiple accounts. If you do, it makes it easier for criminals to access multiple accounts once they steal your login information from one.
- Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible. This will require both your password and a unique code delivered via email, text, or phone to access your account.
- Shred documents that contain your personal information.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
- Never click on links in suspicious emails or texts.
- Delete personal information (addresses, phone numbers, etc) from public profiles on social media and other sites.
You may also want to complete a personal privacy scan to learn how much of your data is exposed online.
6. Sign Up For Identity Protection
Once you’ve done all of these things, you’ll still need some kind of ongoing monitoring and protection to prevent future identity theft.
If your information was exposed in a data breach, you may be offered complimentary credit monitoring; If not, you can sign up for a credit monitoring service yourself.
A credit monitoring service can make the process of recovering your stolen identity much less stressful. These services monitor criminal court records, the dark web, financial account alerts, and other places your personal information might show up, then notify you so you can take action to protect yourself.
Check with your employer, membership organization, insurance company, or credit union to see if they offer identity theft plans (many offer them as a benefit). If not, direct them to Securus Partner Solutions!
Securus offers powerful identity theft solutions that monitor your information, alert you if something seems out of place, and guide you through the process of recovering your stolen identity if you fall prey to identity thieves.
For more information about the plans Securus offers, have your organization contact us.