What steps should I take after an identity theft?

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What steps should I take after an identity theft


The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics estimates that close to 20 million Americans had their personal information compromised last year. Another 100 million had their personal information placed at risk when it was stolen or lost by the government or other businesses. Unfortunately, identify theft is now one of the most expensive and pervasive crimes, far outpacing other property crimes.

Unfortunately, identity thieves are also becoming much more technologically savvy, making it increasingly difficult for the average American to protect their identity and their personal data. Protection, however, has moved beyond simply shredding credit and debit card information. All personal information has value, and the information that you protect should also include medical information, computer passwords, financial data, and tax information.

Most Common Types of Identity Theft

Identity theft can take many forms; some of the most common ones include:

  • Illegal use of medical information
  • Applying for credit
  • Credit card fraud
  • Falsifying tax refund information
  • Withdrawing money illegally from a bank account
  • Check fraud
  • Social Security fraud

Given the high costs and breadth of this problem, it’s important to take some common-sense steps before and after you have been the victim of an identity theft:

1. Contact any affected parties about the identity theft.

The first step after an identity theft is to contact any party directly affected by the breach. For example, if your Bank of America credit card is stolen, you will need to contact Bank of America and report the theft. They will immediately cancel the affected card and issue you a new card.

Other thefts will require different actions. For example, if you find out that someone stole your identity and filed a false tax return, you will need to contact the IRS. They will then make a note of the breach in their records and will issue you a special tax identification number for future tax filings.

2. Shred all private, financial and personal information.

Many Americans discard personal and financial information directly in the trash can without taking the time to ensure that it is probably shredded. One of the best and simplest ways to protect your private information before and after an identity theft is to buy a shredder and destroy all of the information before you throw it in the trash.

Important information to discard can include mortgage information, medical information, financial information, payroll information, and banking statements.

3. Contact credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on your credit reports.

If you have been the victim of an identity theft, you will need to contact the credit agencies and put a 90-day fraud alert on your accounts. This step is crucial to notifying all creditors to take extra precautions prior to issuing credit in your name. The good news is that after you contact one credit agency, for example Experian, they will contact the remaining two (Equifax and TransUnion).

Another step to consider is whether you would like to place a security freeze on your credit reports. If you believe that the identity theft is ongoing, the security freeze will eliminate the ability of new businesses, companies or individuals to access your credit information. Although you will have to contact each agency to initiate the security freeze, it could be a worthwhile step to eliminate the chance that someone will try to get credit in your name.

4. Report the theft to the appropriate authorities.

Although most identity thieves are not caught, it is still important to contact the police and complete an Identity Theft Report. You may also want to contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a report. The steps that will be taken by these parties will vary based on the type of identity theft committed.

4. Make sure that your Social Security number is secure.

If your Social Security number has been illegally used in any way, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration. Although it is very unlikely that they will issue you a new number, at least you will have provided notification that your number has been compromised.

Even if your number has not been compromised, however, it’s important to take common-sense steps to secure it. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet and, if possible, do not give it out. If someone asks for your number, you should also ask if there is another way to provide verification.

5. Request a copy of all three of your credit reports.

All three credit agencies will give you a free copy of your credit report each year. If you have been the victim of an identity theft, however, you will need to immediately request a copy from each credit agency. If you identify any incorrect data, you will need to take immediate steps to clean the report.

6. Keep notes of all of the steps that you have taken following the theft.

Unfortunately, cleaning up your identity following an identity theft can be complicated and time-consuming. Regardless of how much time and effort it takes, however, you should keep a notebook of everyone you call, including contact names and the dates and times that you spoke, as well as what they agreed to do.

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  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

    - Martin Luther King, Jr.