Knowing how to report identity theft immediately will save you from more damage.
Don’t be deceived; identity theft happens more often than you think.
Roughly 1 in 3 Americans have become identity theft victims at some point.
I am one of those victims. And it sucks.
The crazy part is you might not know until much damage has been done.
For example, they could have stolen thousands of bucks from you. In my case, it was $5,700!
Fraudsters might also apply for government benefits or leave you with crippling credit card debt. This means you or your child might only realize when it’s time to pay for college or medical costs.
That’s not all.
Just like Nicole McCabe was framed for murder in 2010, scammers can also use your identity to commit a crime. Thankfully, Nicole’s case was quickly reported.
✎ Related: Most Famous Cases of Identity Theft ➔
It’s important to report an identity theft immediately after you find out. If not, you could be paying someone else’s debt or serving their time in jail.
To avoid these consequences, the next paragraphs outline actionable steps to report identity theft.
Steps to Report an Identity Theft
Staying calm after discovering an identity theft is almost mission impossible-esque. But it’s the first thing you should do. It’ll help you stay organized without making the situation worse.
Depending on the type of identity theft, there are several agencies you must notify. For example, you’ll need to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the police, your bank, and credit bureaus in case of credit card fraud.
You’ll need to notify the US Department of Labor if someone has used your information to file for unemployment benefits.
If you or someone you know has become a victim of identity theft, here’s how to report it immediately:
Step 1: Place a Fraud Alert with Your Credit Bureau
Credit fraud is the most common type of identity theft. Millions of US citizens fall victim, every year.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, place a fraud alert with your credit bureau immediately.
Request a credit freeze from each credit bureau, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. This prevents anyone from applying for new credit lines, including you, until the freeze is lifted.
If you report your personal information as stolen, the major credit bureaus are required to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
What a fraud alert does is notify lenders and creditors to take extra precautions to verify your identity before opening new accounts in your name.
Initial fraud alerts will generally last for a year. But you can ask for an extended seven-year period after you report identity theft to the FTC or local police.
You can contact one of the credit bureaus by mail or phone to request a fraud alert.
Due to the situation’s urgency, you only need to alert one credit agency to place a fraud alert on your credit files. The agency will pass your request to the remaining two.
Step 2: Contact Each Bank or Financial Institution Directly
Next, notify your bank or any other financial institution, such as credit card companies, immediately.
Most banks and financial institutions have a 24-hour toll-free fraud department that can help you protect your account and get new account numbers.
Ensure you record the time and date you called and the name of the representative you spoke with.
This will help you provide the right details when you call the next day for a follow-up.
✎ Related: What Can Someone Do with Your Bank Account Number? ➔
Step 3: Submit a Complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
When submitting an Identity theft report to the FTC or the police, you must be honest. Otherwise, you could face criminal charges if you provide false information.
Here’s how to report an identity theft case to the FTC:
1. Go to IdentityTheft.gov. This official FTC portal allows you to report identity theft and get a recovery plan.
2. Fill out the FTC Identity Theft Report: The FTC will ask questions about the exact nature of the identity theft. Follow the prompts to describe the type of identity theft that most accurately describes your situation. For example, if your information was used to file a federal tax return, exposed in a data breach, or something else.
3. Complete the Identity Theft Affidavit: Next, fill out the formal identity theft affidavit. You’ll be asked to provide the following information:
According to the FTC’s privacy guidelines, you decide how much personal information to disclose. The FTC stores your profile on a secure database that other law enforcement agencies can access for their investigations.
4. Choose a Recovery Plan: Besides reporting ID theft, the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov portal provides a personalized identity recovery strategy. For example, the recovery plan may advise you to call the creditor if your credit card information is compromised. It will then prompt you to place a fraud alert on your credit report. I mentioned this earlier already.
5. Call the FTC: You can also call the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 to report the incident. I recommend you fill out the online report because you can print it to show your local police and lenders. If you report an identity theft by phone, you will not get an ID theft report.
There are other useful resources on the site, such as pre-written letters you can send to creditors or credit bureaus. You can also track the progress in fixing problems that an identity theft case caused.
Step 4: File a Police Report
Although the FTC notifies law enforcement agencies when you file an online identity theft report, I advise you also notify local police.
This is because a creditor or a financial institution may request a police report.
A police report is also an excellent choice when you know the identity theft, and have credible reasons to suspect someone or the thief used your info during a conversation with the police, such as an arrest.
Here’s how to file a police report for identity theft:
1. Print a copy of the FTC identity theft report.
2. Submit a copy to your local police department, including a government-issued photo ID (passport or valid driver’s license) and proof of address (utility bill, rental agreement, or mortgage statement).
3. I’ll advise you to go along with any documentation that proves the theft. This could be bank account statements or notices from government agencies like the IRS tax refund. It could also be a mail for medical treatment you didn’t receive or a mail from debtors for a debt that isn’t yours.
4. Request a copy of your police report to present to any other agency.
Step 5: Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Besides filing a report with the FTC and police, there are other steps you should consider taking if your identity is stolen.
If you notice that your Social Security Number (SSN) has been compromised, you should notify the SSA. This is especially important if your Social Security Card was stolen.
Simply request a copy of a stolen, lost, or damaged card directly on the SSA.gov website.
If you suspect that your personal information is being used to file tax returns, I advise that you also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.
The number to call is 1-800-908-4490.
Alternatively, you can fill out Form 14039 – IRS Identity Theft Affidavit. Even if the ID thief has yet to file a fraudulent tax return, this form notifies the IRS that someone has stolen your identity.
I recommend creating an Identity Protection PIN (IRS tax PIN). It prevents fraudsters from filing a tax return with just your SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
If your mails haven’t been arriving, then someone might have been redirecting or stealing them. Report this to the US Postal Inspection Service.
Step 6: Contact the Department of Labor Fraud
The pandemic heightened cases of fraudulent filing of unemployment benefits. According to the FTC, there were nearly 400,000 complaints in 2020 alone – more than 2,900% compared to the previous year.
With over 1,000 government benefits available, you can expect more fraudulent activities to continue. It’s important to protect yourself before it’s too late.
However, if you think someone has used your personal information to file for unemployment benefits, contact the US Department of Labor immediately. Each state has its number; you can find your state’s office on the US DOL website.
Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
After reporting identity theft; you must protect yourself from future occurrences.
In some cases, fraudsters may steal the information of your friends and family after accessing yours. Ensure you inform your close relatives and friends if you’ve been an identity theft victim so that they can protect themselves.
Ensure you change your usernames and passwords, especially those you use on your financial accounts. Enable two-factor authentication for an extra security layer if your login credentials are compromised.
In the next paragraphs, I’ll share some tips to protect yourself from identity theft. I have written a complete guide on how to prevent identity theft.
- Freeze your credit
- Collect mail daily to keep track of expected mail that doesn’t arrive, such as bills.
- Always review bank statements and credit card transactions.
- Shred any documents with personal information.
- Use different passwords for different accounts, ensuring each password has at least 15 characters and a combination of numbers, alphabets, and special characters.
- Protect your social security number (SSN). Only give your SSN out when necessary. You don’t need to carry your Social Security Card everywhere you go.
- Request credit reports from the credit bureaus or use the annualcreditreport.com website.
- Install reliable anti-virus software and subscribe to an identity theft protection service.
An ID theft protection service alerts you when someone uses your personal information fraudulently.
Identity theft is a global issue, but even more prevalent in the United States. Ensure you protect yourself, your children, and the seniors around you from any potential ID theft attempts online. However, if you suspect you might be an identity theft victim, report it immediately to prevent further financial damage.
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