1. File a claim with your identity theft insurance, if applicable.
If you have an identity theft protection plan, your provider should be able to guide you through many of the following steps. Companies such as LifeLock and Identity Force sell identity theft protection plans, but even if you haven’t purchased coverage, you may have it through an insurer or employer.
2. Notify companies of your stolen identity.
In cases of account takeovers, your credit card number might be compromised but thieves may not have access to your personal information. “That can be solved many times by picking up the phone and calling the credit card issuer,” Levin says.
However, if someone is opening up accounts in your name, impersonating you or using your Social Security number, you may want to proactively contact other companies and agencies. For example, you should notify the IRS if your Social Security number was used to file an income tax return; this can be done by submitting a Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Likewise, if someone is impersonating you, alert your health insurance company in case they attempt to obtain medical care under your name or policy number.
3. File a report with the FTC.
The FTC compiles information about identity theft cases. It doesn’t have the ability to pursue criminal charges, but its information may be used by law enforcement agencies such as the FBI to track down perpetrators.
To file a report with the FTC, visit www.identitytheft.gov. As part of the reporting process, you’ll receive a recovery plan and even prefilled letters and forms that can be used to file police reports and dispute fraudulent charges.
4. Contact your local police department.
The next step is to file a report with your local police department.
“The police report is to protect yourself,” Tanenbaum says. It creates a paper trail that could be useful in the future. For instance, if someone uses your information to commit a crime, having documentation of identity theft could make resolving the matter easier.
5. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Now it’s time to follow up with the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and request a fraud alert be placed on your account. The fraud alert stays on your credit report for a year, and it notifies any institution that pulls your credit report to the fact your identity may be compromised.
6. Freeze your credit.
For an added layer of protection, you can initiate a credit freeze which will completely cut off access to your credit report. That means the credit bureaus won’t share your report with anyone who requests it.
7. Sign up for a credit monitoring service, if offered.
If your information was accessed in a data breach, you may be offered complimentary credit monitoring. These services watch credit reports for suspicious activity and send alerts whenever a new account is opened.
If you aren’t offered free credit monitoring, you can sign up for a reputable service yourself. LifeLock, one popular provider, has plans ranging from a $9.99 per month standard plan for Social Security number and credit alerts to a $29.99 per month service that will watch bank and 401(k) accounts as well as look for any crimes committed in your name. Both come with reimbursement for stolen funds. Pricing is good for the first year and increases in the second year.
8. Tighten security on your accounts.
Cybersecurity experts are quick to point out that most people don’t practice what they call good password hygiene. “Most people never change their password,” Tanenbaum says. Even worse, they use the same passwords or a close variation on every site.
Other ways to avoid future instances of identity theft include shredding documents with personal information, not carrying your Social Security number in your wallet and not clicking on links in emails from suspicious or unknown senders. Delete any personal information such as addresses and phone numbers off public profiles on social media and other sites. Whenever offered, enable two-factor authentication, which will require both a password and a code delivered via email, text or phone for access to an account.
9. Review your credit reports for mystery accounts.
Whether you’re a victim of credit card fraud or a stolen identity, you need to check your credit reports for any accounts you may not recognize. By law, you’re entitled to at least one free credit report from each agency each year. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people can now request a free credit report weekly from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion through April 2021.