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What To Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Sean Bryant5-minute read
PUBLISHED: July 01, 2021 | UPDATED: April 15, 2022

The last thing any of us want to do is find out that our identity has been stolen. Unfortunately, this happens to millions of Americans every year. According to a study done by Javelin Strategy & Research, there were 16.7 million victims of identity theft in 2017 alone.

If any of your personal identifiable information gets into the wrong hands, you need to take action immediately. The road ahead will be difficult, but with a well-designed plan, you can get your identity and life back.

How Do People Steal Your Identity?

Before we look at what needs to be done after you’ve become a victim, let’s start by covering a few of the common tactics used to steal identity.

Database Hacks

It seems like every month a new corporation reports that part of its database was compromised. In 2018, more than 500 million people had personal information, including their passport numbers, stolen through the Marriott data breach. And earlier this year, more than 100 million Capital One credit cardholders had their personal information fall into the wrong hands.

Computer Malware

It’s important to always be smart when using your personal computer. Thieves are very intelligent when it comes to using malware to steal information. Make sure you’re never opening email attachments or clicking links from people you don’t know. Oftentimes these are the access points for criminals to place malicious software on your computer.

Mail Theft

Have you ever been waiting for a W-2 only for it to never arrive? Mail theft is one of the most common forms of identity theft. Criminals get ahold of your W-2 which includes your employer name and your Social Security number. They can also get credit card statements which frequently include your card number.

How Can I Find Out If Someone Is Using My Identity?

One of the best ways to stay on top of your identity and make sure people are not using your information for their own good is to regularly check your credit report for free through Rocket HomesSM. Do you see a credit card account that doesn’t belong? Maybe a personal loan you never applied for?

Here are a few of the other telltale signs you might have been a victim of identity theft:

  • Fraudulent charges appear on your credit card or bank statement.
  • You’re declined for a credit account even though you have excellent credit.
  • You receive a message that your personal information was part of a data breach.
  • You get a bill for something you didn't order.
  • You’re not receiving sensitive pieces of mail like bills or checks.

What Are You Liable For If Your Identity is Stolen?

If you’re a victim of identity theft, the law is on your side. In most states, you’re not liable for any debt that occurred as a result of fraudulent accounts being opened. Plus, under federal law, you are only liable for the first $50 in fraudulent charges on your credit card.

The laws are slightly less in your favor if your debit card is involved. If you report the theft before any transactions are made, you are responsible for $0. However, if you file a report within 2 business days, you’re liable for $50. Then if you file between 2 business days and 60 calendar days, you’re liable for $500. And if it’s been more than 60 days, your liability is potentially unlimited.

What Do You Do If You Think Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

So where are you supposed to start? Here are eight steps to prevent and protect yourself from identity theft.

1. Add Fraud Alerts To The Three Major Credit Bureaus 

The very first thing you need to do is add a fraud alert to the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax®, and Transunion®. Typically you can file the alert with one and they will then alert the other two.

If someone attempts to apply for a loan or get a credit card using your information, the credit bureaus will inform the lender or card issuer that additional security measures need to be put in place. This allows them to confirm the applicant's identity. 

Fraud alerts are typically free to place on your account. Plus, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the alert can be added for up to 7 years. You will also be allowed to receive two free credit reports from all three credit bureaus each year. Make sure you take advantage of these. Look through each of them closely to make sure no new accounts have been opened.

2. Freeze Your Credit Reports

Once you’ve placed a fraud alert with the three credit bureaus, you’ll also need to freeze your credit reports. What this does is make it so creditors can’t access your credit report without your permission. If someone tries to open a new account using your information, it will be declined since the new creditor won’t be able to evaluate your credit profile.

Once you freeze your accounts, it will become more difficult to apply for new credit accounts yourself. Typically, you’ll need to ask to temporarily unfreeze your account so a decision can be made.

3. Contact The Necessary Organizations

You’ll also need to call the company through which the identity theft occurred. Chances are you’re not their only customer who was a victim. You’ll also want to call the credit card issuer to let them know what has happened. Once you do this they will freeze or close the account.

4. File A Police Report

Because identity theft is fraud, you should always file a police report. This will offer support if and when you receive any future collection calls regarding accounts opened illegally in your name.

5. Contact The Federal Trade Commission

In addition to filing a report with your local police department, you’ll also need to contact the FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT. You can also file your identity theft affidavit online. Both the police report and the identity theft affidavit will make up your identity theft report. Once this report has been created, the FTC will help you through the next steps.

6. Contact The Social Security Administration And IRS

If you believe your Social Security number might have been compromised as part of the identity theft, you’ll want to contact both the Social Security Administration and the IRS. If your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, criminals could attempt to collect future tax returns or apply for health insurance coverage.  

7. Close Accounts That Were Opened In Your Name

By now you’ve taken most of the important steps to alert the appropriate agencies about the identity theft that took place. Now it’s time to start cleaning up. After you’ve had a chance to go through your credit report, call the fraud departments and close any accounts that were not opened by you.

8. Remove Bad Charges From Each Account

In addition to closing accounts that were set up in your name, it’s important to address each individual charge posted on your accounts. Let the company know that you were a victim of identity theft and you want to remove fraudulent charges from your account. Once this is done, you can ask them to send you a letter stating these were removed. This might be helpful to have if they show up on your credit report in the future. Often times businesses will need you to send them a copy of the identity theft report you received from the FTC.

The Bottom Line

Identity theft is something no one wants to deal with. However, by understanding the steps you need to take when it does happen, you’ll be able to get your life and identity back much quicker.

Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant is a Denver based freelance writer specializing in travel, credit cards, and personal finance. With more than 10 years of writing experience, his work has appeared in many of the industries’ top publications.