How to Recover a Stolen Identity
So your identity has been stolen. What should you do next?
The significant consequence for any victims of identity theft is that fraudsters can now use their details to commit crimes. Learning you have been a victim is deeply personal. Finding out that your identity has been used for other crimes can also put you in a corner. You should get professional support if the experience has affected you emotionally.
But what should you actually do now? What if you’re not a victim, but want to prepare yourself? Here’s how to recover your identity and safeguard it again going forward.
My Identity Was Stolen: Now What?
In 2018, the US Department of Justice reported that about 23 million Americans were victims of identity theft. Needless to say, it’s a massive problem. The Federal Trade Commission runs an identity recovery service that helps you based on your unique circumstances. But, generally, getting your identity back will typically involve these seven steps.
File a Police Report
You need to report this. Identity theft is a big deal, but you don’t have to dial 911. Instead, call the non-emergency phone number of the law enforcement agency that serves your municipality.
This could be a police department or the sheriff’s office. The number will be on the contact us page of the agency’s official website. You can get this official site by going a Google search for “[law enforcement agency name] official website.”
When you call this number, tell the administrative officer that you would like to report a case of identity theft. They will pass your call to a detective you can talk to. You may also have to visit the agency in person to get a physical copy of the police report. This document will be helpful in the next steps as you recover your identity.
Contact Your Bank and Other Financial Institutions
This step is important; you should do it right after that phone call to the police. Call your bank and tell them you have been a victim of identity theft. Call your account officer directly if you have their contact details. Otherwise, visit your bank’s official website and navigate to the “contact us” page. Look for the “report fraud” numbers.
Calling customer care is notoriously slow. You can get faster support if you use the live chat option. And when you do reach a support agent, get straight to the point. A good starter is, “Hi, my name is Richard, and I have reason to believe someone stole my identity. I am reaching out for your help. I would like to freeze my account temporarily.”
Your bank will immediately stop all pending and future charges to your account and credit cards. It is best to contact all banks and financial institutions where you have accounts immediately. Why? Because your details may have been compromised in more than one way. The fraudster may move on to other accounts once they realize you’re on to them.
Change Your Online Login Details
You should change your online login details, especially if your identity was compromised on an online platform. Start by changing the passwords and PINs to your apps. Then, change the passwords to your social media accounts.
Avoid reusing old passwords. Instead, use a password manager to create strong passwords and save them. Also, enable multi-factor authentication on all your accounts. This offers another level of protection, so even if someone finds out your login credentials, there’s another barrier before entry.
You don’t have to change the passwords to all your online accounts in a single day. Make a priority list instead. Start with the passwords to your banking apps. Do you reuse that password elsewhere? Change those destinations too. Similarly, any platform with financial details.
Then, move on to your main social media accounts. You may move on to the next steps of recovering your identity. Remember to set a reminder to change the passwords to other online accounts.
Gather Evidence of the Identity Theft
Fraudsters may have used your personal information to open a bank account, take a loan, order a new credit card, or collect public benefits. You most likely found out about the identity theft when you saw something unexpected in your account statement or received an odd letter from a service provider. These are helpful pieces of evidence.
So, print or take screenshots of emails; make copies of financial statements or reports; and make copies of other relevant documents. The more, the better. These documents will show you did not commit fraud yourself. They will also help investigators review your case faster.
Contact Your Credit Agency
Contact Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax to place a fraud alert on your name. This step is especially important if a fraudster has access to your credit report, social security number, or other details needed to open lines of credit in your name. These can potentially ruin your credit score if left unchecked.
A fraud alert is an additional layer of security to prevent anyone from taking out instant loans in your name. The fraud alert does not affect you or your credit score. You can still apply for loans, but a creditor must confirm your identity before approving anything.
File an Identity Theft Report
You will need the identity theft report to insulate you from criminal and civil liabilities. The report is basically a dossier of letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These letters will come in handy when you need to get refunds or dispute fraudulent charges with your bank, credit card company, utility company, or other service providers.
Change Your Government IDs
The important government IDs you’ll need to change are your social security card, driver’s license, and international passport. The Social Security Administration has a support page with the instructions and forms you’ll need to change your SSN. Similarly, the Department of State has a help page for changing passports. The numbers on these IDs will change when you replace them, effectively making the stolen ones useless.
The process is different for your driver’s license, however. You will need to contact your local DMV for that. You may apply online or need to schedule an appointment with the DMV, depending on where you live.
How Do Criminals Steal Your Identity?
The ways cybercriminals can get enough information to steal your identity can be simple or complex. Here are three ways criminals may get your info.
A person digs through your trash looking for specific financial documents like pay stubs, account statements, receipts, and letters. As a rule of thumb, shred all documents that contain information about you and your finances.
Besides money, many people also store their important government IDs and bank cards in their wallets. The information on these cards can do considerable damage in the wrong hands.
Data Breaches and Phishing
The more technical way that cybercriminals get your information for identity theft is through data breaches. These data breaches may be a result of hacking your computer or companies with your data. Similarly, phishing often targets not just your money but also your data.
While there is little you can do about your information in the hands of a third-party company (except to make sure they store it securely), you can safeguard data on your devices. Drive encryption is a good place to start.
You should also monitor important updates on your devices, especially security patches. Likewise, it is possible to spot phishing attempts and steer clear.
Identity Theft: You Are Not Helpless
Feeling anxious when you find out your identity has been stolen is normal, but you are not helpless. There are resources to help you reclaim your identity, recover stolen money, and prevent future thefts. The important thing is to keep a level head and not panic.