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Getting bills for credit cards you never signed up for? Were you denied a loan you were sure you could get? Uh oh, looks like you may be the latest victim of identity theft! What do you do now? Try not to panic (easier said than done, we know). But your best course of action is to be armed with all the information you need about how to report identity theft and the steps you can take to lessen the blow. And take action immediately! Keep reading for our step-by-step guide if you find yourself a victim of ID theft.
What is Identity Theft?
The definition of identity theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, is “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.” Today’s identity thieves have unprecedented ways to steal your identity — and they can do it in a matter of minutes.
How to Report Identity Theft
One of the most immediate steps to take is to report your stolen identity to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can reach them by phone at 1-877-438-4338 or online through the FTC complaint assistant web page. Describe your situation in detail, so they have the information they need to help you.
What Else Can You Do to Restore Your Identity?
Reporting your ID theft to the FTC is of utmost importance, but there are several other steps you need to take to restore your financial standing. Here are our tips for what to do if your identity is stolen:
- Contact the financial institutions where you’re encountering problems. Ask for them to lock down or close the accounts immediately.
- Review all your bank, credit card and other financial statements for unauthorized charges. Contact any additional institutions to close out accounts if needed.
- Request copies of your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and look for any suspicious activity. You’re legally entitled to an annual free credit report from each agency.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service to help you screen for ongoing or future issues that might arise. Learn more by reading our Best Credit Monitoring Service article.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports (typically lasts 90 days). A fraud alert notifies any organization that pulls your credit report that your identity may be compromised. This alert warns creditors to take an extra step when they’re verifying the identity of the person opening the account.
- Contact your local police department. Although you likely are a victim of id thieves that aren’t local, filing a local police report creates a paper trail to help you in the long run. The more paper trail you have about your ID theft, the better.
- Go to IdentityTheft.gov, the FTC’s resource for tips about how to recover from identity theft. Check out the following video, which explains how IdentityTheft.gov can help you.
How Do You Protect Yourself from Identity Theft?
It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that you have to stay vigilant with all of your financial accounts, online spending, snail mail and many other ways ID thieves can steal your identity. Investing a minimal amount per month on a credit monitoring service is a great solution for many of us who are too busy to stay on top of it all. ID theft protection can save you a ton of time and peace of mind. Our recommendation is IdentityForce, which monitors everything from your driver’s license number to your email. But be sure to check out our Best Identity Theft Protection article for even more recommendations.
What steps did you take to repair your stolen identity?