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How to report identity theft

Contact the Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Inspector General and local police

by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
man holding phone and credit card

It can be difficult to navigate your world in the wake of an identity theft crisis. If you’ve checked for identity theft and discovered suspicious activity, you are at high risk for identity fraud, which could cost thousands of dollars and potentially damage your credit. This will not be an easy mess to clean up, especially if you’ve caught it late in the game. Knowing who to contact can make it easier to recover, though, so you can get your finances back in order and move on with your life.

What to do if your identity is stolen

  1. Call companies where fraud occurred
    If you see any suspicious charges on your bank or credit account, call the companies right away to dispute the charges. It’s important to find these transactions as soon as possible so that your bank or credit card company can drop the charges and freeze your account.
  2. Read over old statements
    Go over all your old statements, even for accounts you don’t use often. Search for any transactions you don’t recognize that you can report to the company so you are not held responsible for the charges.
  3. Review your credit report
    This will reveal any mystery accounts. Request credit reports from all three agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Everyone is legally entitled to access one free report from each credit reporting agency every year.
  4. Freeze accounts with suspicious activity
    Contact the companies that manage the account where fraud occurred right away. Say that your identity was stolen and ask them to freeze your account.
  5. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission
    File a report with the FTC, and they will walk you through the necessary steps to protect your finances and your credit. The FTC doesn’t have criminal jurisdiction, but they do have the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, where all identity theft complaints are officially logged.
  6. Notify local police
    To file a report, go to your local police department with a copy of your FTC complaint, a government-issued photo ID, proof of address and proof of the theft (i.e. credit card statements). Ask the police to attach your FTC complaint, and be sure to take home a copy of the report.

    Victims of identity theft are often discouraged from filing a report with local law enforcement. Remember that filing a report acts as a declaration of your innocence. There are three reasons to report your identity theft to the police:

    • If you know the person who stole your identity.
    • If the thief used your name in an encounter with the police.
    • If a creditor or debt collector insists you provide a police report.

    If any of these apply to you, be firm and stay calm when explaining to law enforcement that you would like to file an official report. It might come in handy later.

  7. Report identity theft to Social Security
    Report fraudulent use of a Social Security number to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. Someone there can review your earnings and make sure all of their records are correct. This can help you protect both your credit and your tax return.

    If you discover another tax return has been filed with your information, use IRS Form 14039, an identity theft affidavit, to alert the IRS. You should also contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prevent tax fraud.

  8. Send copies of your identity theft report to creditors
    You must send your FTC Identity Theft Report, proof of your identity and a letter stating which information is fraudulent to your credit bureau to ensure fraudulent information is removed from your credit report.

How to recover from identity theft

It’s important to act very quickly if you suspect theft to protect yourself from identity fraud. Once you’ve contacted the FTC, a major credit bureau and the police if necessary, here are the actions you can take to speed up the recovery process.

  • Sign up for a credit monitoring service: You might qualify for a free credit monitoring service if your information was compromised in a data breach.
  • Get a fraud alert: You’ll then want to contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your records. As long as you contact one of the three major credit bureaus, the other two will be contacted.
  • Use a credit lock: A lock allows lenders to access your report, and then immediately lock it again. You can sign up for a credit lock at each bureau, but unlike a freeze, a credit lock is not governed by federal law.
  • Open a new, secure account: This step will vary depending on which type of account the fraudulent activity occurred. You also might have to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles if your driver’s license number has been compromised.
  • Change passwords: After you’ve shut down the compromised account, you should change all your passwords and PINs.
woman calling about identity theft

Identity theft questions

Are you liable for identity theft?
In most states, you won’t be held responsible for debts incurred on your accounts through fraud. If you report your lost credit card to your credit card company or bank, you should not be held responsible for fraudulent charges. Federal law caps the amount you have to pay for unauthorized use of your credit card to $50, but only if you report the fraud within two business days.

Can you sue for identity theft?
It will be a civil case if you decide to sue someone for stealing your identity. You could be awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunction relief and restitution. In general, you can sue for any kind of damages, but keep in mind that court costs could exceed whatever you’re ultimately able to get out of your identity thief.

Credit bureaus and banks, or even the business that accepted your fraudulent payment, might be legally responsible for your financial loss if there was negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty, emotional distress or breach of contract.

How long does it take to recover from identity theft?
The Federal Trade Commission estimates take an average of 200 hours of work over about six months to recover from identity theft. The most labor-intensive parts of this process will be writing letters, making phone calls and keeping track of all your statements and reports.

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by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.