How to Recover a Stolen Identity

So your identity has been stolen. What should you do next?

The main consequence for all victims of identity theft is that fraudsters can now use their data to commit crimes. Learning that you were a victim is deeply personal. Finding out that your identity has been used for other crimes can also corner you. Get professional support if you were emotionally affected by the experience.

But what should you actually do now? What if you’re not a victim but want to prepare? This allows you to restore your identity and protect it again in the future.

My identity has been stolen: now what?

In 2018, the US Department of Justice reported that approximately 23 million Americans were victims of identity theft. Needless to say, it’s a massive problem. The Federal Trade Commission operates an identity recovery service to help you based on your unique circumstances. But in general, recovering your identity usually involves these seven steps.


File a police report

You must report this. Identity theft is a big deal, but you don’t have to call 911. Instead, call the non-emergency number for the law enforcement agency that serves your community.

This can be a police department or the sheriff’s office. You can find the number on the contact page of the agency’s official website. You can get this official website by doing a Google search for “[law enforcement agency name] official website.”

When you call this number, you are telling the administrator that you wish to report a case of identity theft. They transfer your call to a detective who you can speak to. You may also need to visit the agency in person to obtain a physical copy of the police report. This document will help you with the next steps when restoring your identity.

Contact your bank and other financial institutions

This step is important; You should do it right after that call to the police. Call your bank and tell them you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Call your account manager directly if you have their contact details. Otherwise, visit your bank’s official website and navigate to the Contact Us page. Look for the Report Fraud numbers.

Calling customer service is notoriously slow. You can get faster support if you use the live chat option. And when you reach a support agent, you get straight to the point. A good place to start is: “Hi, my name is Richard and I have reason to believe that someone has stolen my identity. I turn to your help. I want to temporarily suspend my account.”

Your bank will immediately stop all pending and future charges on your account and credit cards. It is best to contact all banks and financial institutions where you have accounts immediately. Why? Because your data may have been compromised in more than one way. The scammer may switch to other accounts once they realize you are on to them.


Change your online login details

You should change your online credentials, especially if your identity has been compromised on an online platform. Start changing your apps passwords and PINs. Then change the passwords for your social media accounts.

Avoid reusing old passwords. Instead, use a password manager to create and store strong passwords. Also, enable multi-factor authentication for all your accounts. This provides another layer of protection. Even if someone finds out your credentials, there is another barrier before entry.

You don’t have to change passwords for all of your online accounts in a single day. Instead, create a priority list. Start with passwords for your banking apps. Do you reuse this password elsewhere? Change those goals too. Likewise any platform with financial details.

Then move on to your main social media accounts. You can proceed to the next steps to restore your identity. Remember to set a reminder to change passwords for other online accounts.

Gather evidence of identity theft

Scammers may have used your personal information to open a bank account, get a loan, get a new credit card, or collect government benefits. Most likely, you learned about identity theft when you saw something unexpected on your bank statement or received a strange letter from a service provider. This is helpful evidence.

Print or take screenshots of emails; make copies of financial statements or reports; and make copies of other relevant documents. The more the better. These documents show that you have not committed any fraud. They also help investigators review your case more quickly.

Contact your credit agency

Contact Experian, TransUnion or Equifax to place a fraud alert on your behalf. This step is especially important if a scammer has access to your credit report, social security number, or other details needed to open lines of credit on your behalf. These can potentially ruin your credit score if left unchecked.

A fraud alert is an extra layer of security to prevent someone from taking out instant loans on your behalf. The fraud alert will not affect you or your credit score. You can still apply for credit, but a lender will need to verify your identity before approving anything.

Submit an identity theft report

You need the identity theft report to protect yourself from criminal and civil liability. The report is essentially a dossier of letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These letters come in handy when you need to get a refund or dispute a fraudulent charge with your bank, credit card company, utility company, or other service provider.


Change your official IDs

The important government IDs that you need to change are your social security card, driver’s license and international passport. The Social Security Administration has a support page with the instructions and forms you need to change your SSN. Similarly, the State Department has a help page for changing passports. The numbers on these IDs change when you replace them, effectively rendering the stolen ones useless.

However, the process is different for your driver’s license. You will need to contact your local DMV for this. You can apply online or need to make an appointment with the DMV depending on where you live.

How do criminals steal your identity?

How cyber criminals obtain enough information to steal your identity can be simple or complex. Here are three ways criminals can get your information.

dumpster diving

A person rummages through your junk for specific financial documents, such as payslips, bank statements, receipts, and letters. As a rule of thumb, shred any documents that contain information about you and your finances.

Stolen wallets

In addition to money, many people also keep important official IDs and bank cards in their wallets. The information on these cards can cause significant damage in the wrong hands.

Data breaches and phishing

The more technical way cybercriminals get your information for identity theft is through data breaches. These data breaches can be because your computer or company containing your data has been hacked. Likewise, phishing often not only targets your money, but also your data.

While there’s little you can do when your data is in the hands of a third party (other than making sure it’s stored securely), you can protect the data on your devices. Drive encryption is a good place to start.

You should also monitor important updates on your devices, especially security patches. It is also possible to recognize and avoid phishing attempts.

Identity theft: you are not helpless

Fear when you find out your identity has been stolen is normal, but you are not helpless. There are resources to help you regain your identity, recover stolen money, and prevent future thefts. It is important to keep a cool head and not to panic.

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