It starts by receiving bills or collection calls from companies you haven’t bought anything from. At first, it may seem like a simple mistake or a new telemarketing trick. However, as the bills keep piling up you realize there’s no mistake at all, someone has stolen your identity.
Learning you’ve been a victim of identity theft can be panic-inducing. Even if you’ve done a great job keeping your information secure, identity theft can happen to anyone. To make matters worse, most victims are not made aware of the crime until after the fraudulent bills are already past-due.
If you’re learning you were a victim of identity theft, time is of the essence and you are probably already behind. Here are the steps you need to take immediately in order to protect yourself, your finances and your credit score. Additionally, you can find information on how to get a new social security card quickly once the damage is repaired.
- Contact the banks/companies that have been defrauded
The very first thing you will want to do is contact the fraud department of any bank or company where your information was used to open up a fraudulent account. You’ll want to close or freeze any unauthorized account as well as any accounts you believe may be compromised.
- Report ID theft to the FTC
In order to prove you have been a victim of identity theft, you must contact the FTC and obtain an identity theft report from them. You will need to show this report to banks, companies and credit agencies in order to stop them from reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus.
You can report identity theft to the FTC by going to https://www.identitytheft.gov or calling 877-438-4338.
- Contact the Credit Reporting Agencies for your full credit report, place fraud alerts and freeze your credit
There are three Credit Reporting Agencies in the US: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You will need to contact all three of them and take a few steps. Technically, you are only required to contact one because they are legally obligated to share this information with each other, but it’s best to simply contact all of them to avoid delay.
You will first want to make sure a “Fraud Alert” is added to your profile. This lasts for a year and tells financial institutions to verify your ID before opening any new accounts in your name. Additionally, you can also opt for an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years.
Websites for Credit Reporting Agencies:
When you contact these agencies, make sure to request full copies of your credit reports to be sure you do not miss any fraudulently opened accounts. You can also ask for a “freeze” to be applied to your account. The freeze prevents anyone from looking up your credit for a specific period of time, making it very difficult for identity thieves to open any new accounts.
- Start cleaning out your credit reports
Once you fully understand the extent of your identity theft, have gotten copies of all of your credit reports and receive a copy of your Identity Theft Report from the FTC, it is important you stay in contact with the reporting agencies in order to make sure every single mention of the fraudulent activity is deleted. It is important to stay proactive because if you do not ask for each fraudulent entry to be removed, it may stay in your report forever.
- Get all the documents used to open accounts in your name
You have the right to ask anybody who approved credit to your identity thief to provide the documents that were used in the approval process. You will need to ask for these documents in writing and will need to provide your FTC Identity Theft Report.
- Call the Police!
In addition to contacting the FTC, you should also call your local police department and file a report. They will want to see any evidence you can provide such as bills, collection notices and your report from the FTC. Remember to ask for a copy of the police report once it is complete.
- Call the IRS
Unfortunately, even though you’ve prevented future identity theft through the financial system, now that your information has been compromised there are still several avenues by which your personal information can be used to commit fraud.
You should be sure to contact the IRS to make sure there has been no tax-related fraud using your identity. Someone with the right information could use your identity to file a tax return in your name in order to steal your refund. In addition to contacting them, keep a lookout for any notices by mail that could alert you to suspicious activity.
- Call your medical insurance company
Identity theft is typically seen as a financial crime but you may be surprised to find out it can even affect your healthcare. Thieves will sometimes use their assumed identities to visit hospitals, get prescriptions or even have surgery. To make sure your information isn’t being used you’ll want to start by contacting your insurance provider.
They should be able to let you know if an identity thief has sought out services in your name, when and where. If your information has been used you’ll then need to contact the medical facility and let them know that you are a victim of identity fraud and they should be able to assist you further.
- Reach out to your state’s DMV or licensing agency
One of the scarier consequences of identity theft is when a thief uses your information to get a fake driver’s license and impersonates you in real life. Imagine a police officer knocking on your door and arresting you for a crime someone else has committed in your name. The DMV will be able to tell you if any additional licenses have been issued in your name as a result of the theft.
- Clean up all the loose ends you can think of
For this part, you need to try and get into the head of a clever identity thief. Now that you have a good grasp on what personal information of yours has been used to commit fraud, you should brainstorm all the other ways that the same information can be used to hurt you. If any of your online accounts have been compromised, be sure to make new accounts where appropriate and protect each one with a strong, unique password.
Life after identity theft
Now that you’ve done all of your initial clean-up, you should be in a pretty safe place moving forward and on the way to repairing any damage caused by the identity thief. Unfortunately, your job still isn’t done as you need to protect yourself even more vigilantly going forward.
How to get a new social security card quickly
If the damage done to your identity is severe, you may want to consider asking the Social Security Administration to issue a new social security number. So long as you can prove that your identity has been stolen and misused they will provide you with a new number and card free of charge.