What to do when your identity is stolen
Last updated: January 1
An unfamiliar charge on your bank statement. A collection notice for a mysterious debt. A medical charge for a treatment you never had. These are all tell-tale signs of a stolen identity.
If you discover any of these red flags (or others), it's important to act quickly, because identity theft can cost you. More than $16 billion was stolen from over 15 million people in 2016, according to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin.
Here are the steps to take if you suspect you're the latest victim:
What to do right away
Reach out to the company and ask about the suspicious charges. If you determine the charges are fraudulent, IdentityTheft.gov says to take action:
- Close or freeze the account (so no further charges can be made without permission).
- Change logins, PINs or passwords, and replace cards.
The company may ask you to call again, after you've filed official theft reports. But don't skip this initial outreach, because reporting fraud quickly may help limit your liability, according to IdentityTheft.gov, meaning you won't be responsible for bills racked up by the thieves.
What to do next
After that, you'll want to file reports and review your records:
- Place a fraud alert. Call one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian) and place a fraud alert. The bureau you call will notify the other two. The free alert can make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Order and review credit reports. Order a credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (you're allowed one free report from each agency every year) and search the reports for unfamiliar accounts or debts.
- Make official theft reports. Reach out to the FTC to file a report. The report guarantees you certain rights, says IdentityTheft.gov, and can help the commission act against impostors. You may also want to file a police report, because some companies require one to address a claim.
How to find a resolution
Having your FTC or police reports on hand can help with these next steps from IdentityTheft.gov:
- Close fraudulent accounts. Call companies where thieves have opened accounts in your name and ask them to close the accounts. Request a letter confirming that: 1) the account isn't yours, 2) that you're not responsible for it, and, 3) that the company will remove it from your credit report.
- Dispute fraudulent charges. Call companies where the bogus charges were made and ask them to remove the transactions. Then, request a letter saying they removed the bad charges.
- Correct credit reports. Write each credit bureau and ask them to "block" fraudulent accounts and transactions from your credit report. If you include your FTC report, the credit bureaus are required to comply. What's more, once bad accounts are "blocked," companies can no longer try to collect that debt.
Even after you take all of these important steps, you'll want to keep an eye on your accounts for some time — and be ready to take quick action if there's any sign of further fraud. You should treat your personal information as if it's the most precious thing you own.