As the world becomes more connected and transactions more anonymous, identity theft has become more of a problem. This kind of theft not only empties your bank account but it can also severely curtail your future plans. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you should follow the steps below to recover.
Start With Damage Control
The first step towards recovery must always be damage control. “The consumers who are best able to mitigate damage are those who take an active role in the process.” says attorney Adam Cohen. To be proactive, your goal should be to quickly contact the companies with whom you know fraud has been perpetrated. Most financial institutions have dedicated fraud departments that can walk you through the next few steps. This will almost certainly involve changing card numbers, freezing accounts, and having to change any of your logins and pin numbers.
Contact the FTC
The FTC has a vested interest in fighting identity theft, so contact them next. The FTC Identity Theft Bureau should be notified that your identity has been stolen so that you can work through the process at the highest levels. While you may not get any immediate results from the FTC, showing that you’ve contacted the agency can be an important part of reclaiming your identity down the road. The FTC can also help to inform you of any paperwork or other filings that might need to be done to help repair the damage done by the identity thief.
Check Your Credit
Identity thieves can tank your credit with irresponsible purchases, but you might not notice the impact until you try to apply for a loan. As such, your next step should be to check your credit score. Look through your recent credit history for signs that someone has borrowed money or applied for credit. If you notice something out of the ordinary, there’s a good chance that the initial breach was more substantial than a stolen credit card number. Once you have your credit score in front of you, you can make a plan for what comes next.
Issue a Fraud Alert and Freeze Your Credit
If you suspect that your identity really has been stolen, it’s time to make sure that no further damage can be done. At the very least, you’ll want to place a fraud alert on your credit report. If you contact one of the three major credit bureaus, they will inform the other two bureaus of your alert. Once this is in place, it will become harder for an identity thief to apply for credit and loans using your identity. A fraud alert lasts for about three months but can be renewed.
If you know you won’t need to apply for credit soon, it may also be a good idea to freeze your credit. Freezing your credit locks access to your credit report making it impossible for lenders to work with you. Freezes can be lifted for a fee or with the right paperwork, but they make it incredibly difficult for anyone but you to actually access your credit. These freezes are a major inconvenience, but they do provide a level of protection that is hard to match. A credit freeze is not always the best solution, but it is the strongest.
Start the Repair Process
The hardest part of recovery will be repairing your information. When you contacted the FTC’s Identity Theft Bureau, you should have gotten paperwork about your identity theft. This, along with basic information like your social security number and birth certificate, can be used to help establish that certain charges were not made with your authorization. You can contact the credit bureaus and any impacted credit card companies with this information to help erase at least some of the damage done by the identity thief. This process can be long and grueling, but it is the only way you can fully recover financially.
The road to recovery after identity theft can be long. Not only will you have to undertake the financial steps above, but you may also need to file criminal charges against the person who stole your identity. If you are proactive and tenacious, though, you can fight your way through this and get your identity back.