If you’ve learned you’re a victim of identity theft, you need to take action—and quickly. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start trying to resolve the issues you currently face and help protect yourself against further negative effects.
The action you take is largely dependent on what kind of identity theft you’ve experienced. As you can imagine, working with your local bank to resolve a case of credit card fraud is different than addressing tax-related identity theft with the Internal Revenue Service.
Here are some steps to consider as you take on the task of restoring your identity, based on the type of identity theft involved.
- If you spot unfamiliar transactions on a bank or credit card account, you could be the victim of financial identity theft. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately.
If someone has unauthorized access to your bank account, you’ll want to close that account, of course, and open a new one with a new account number. You’ll also want to work with the bank to resolve the fraudulent transactions, if any.
If someone has stolen your credit card number, contact the issuer to alert them to the fraudulent charges. Ask them to close the account and issue you a new card.
Learn more about how to help resolve financial identity theft here.
- Governmental identity theft occurs when someone fraudulently shares your personal information with the government. One example is tax-related identity theft—an imposter uses your Social Security number and other personal information to file an income tax return in your name, hoping to obtain a fraudulent tax refund.
If you discover you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft, you’ll need to alert the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department. Why the police department? Because you’re the victim of a crime, and a police report may be necessary to resolve the issue.
You should also contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place a “fraud alert” on your credit report, making it more difficult for criminals to open accounts in your name. The credit reporting agency you contact will contact the other two agencies.
Equifax: 800-525-6285 or Equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742 or Experian.com
TransUnion: 800-680-7289 or TransUnion.com
The IRS also advises these additional steps:
• Respond immediately to any IRS notice.
• Complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. You’ll find the IRS form here.
Another example of governmental ID theft is employment fraud, when someone uses your Social Security number to obtain employment.
If you’re a victim of employment fraud, the folks at the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center suggest you file a police report and then call the Social Security Administration (SSA) in your area. Use this tool on the SSA site to locate your nearest office. SSA forms can help you correct the fraudulent activity that’s now part of your records. You’ll also need to inform the Internal Revenue Service and your state’s internal revenue department, assuming you have a state income tax.
If someone is using your Social Security number for tax-related identity theft or employment fraud, they may also be using it for other purposes. It’s a good idea to review your credit reports for any fraudulent activity. AnnualCreditReport.com can help you do just that—giving you free access to your credit reports—one per year from each of the three main credit agencies.
If you discover activity on any of your credit reports that’s not yours, our article on disputing a credit report may be useful.
- If you learn that there’s a warrant out for your arrest for a crime you know nothing about, you could be a victim of criminal identity theft. It could be that an imposter gave your name and other personal information when they were stopped by police.
If this is your problem, you may have to contact both your local law enforcement agency and the one that wants to arrest you. Your local agency may be able to help you prove—through fingerprints, for instance—to the arresting agency that you’re not the criminal.
Given the serious nature of this crime, in which it’s your word against the arresting police agency, it’s important to act quickly to clear your name. The Identity Theft Resource Center’s resources on this topic may prove helpful.
- With your personal information, it’s possible for an identity thief to assume your identity to see a doctor or visit an emergency room. This is called medical identity theft. And since your healthcare data could become mingled with your imposter's data, this crime could even threaten your health.
If you’re a victim, the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center offers several recommendations, including:
- Ask for copies of your medical records from the providers where your identity may have been used fraudulently.
- Ask those same health care providers for a list of those with whom they’ve shared your protected health information—it may have the same errors.
- Reach out to medical facilities asking you for payment for services you didn’t receive. Tell them yours is a case of identity theft or mistaken identity. And ask what service was provided. Perhaps you can prove you didn’t receive it.
- File a police report in your local jurisdiction.
- If someone used your personal information to open a wireless phone or utility account, you’re a victim of phone or utilities fraud.
With utilities fraud, you might not find out about the problem until an unpaid bill shows up on your credit report. In this case, you need to contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies to dispute the fraudulent activity. Our article about disputing a credit report may be helpful. And you’ll need to contact the utility where the fraudulent account was opened. The Federal Trade Commission’s website can walk you through other necessary steps to address the issue.
Phone fraud typically refers to phones of the wireless type. Criminals will use others’ personal information to open new wireless accounts or upgrade phones on existing accounts. Often, the thieves’ goal is to put their hands on the newest smartphones, which they can then sell. This is another case in which—if a new account is opened and you’re not aware—you may not learn of the crime until you hear from a bill collector or an unpaid bill shows up on your credit report. This is another reason to regularly monitor your credit reports for unfamiliar activity.
If the criminal upgrades a phone on your existing account, your first clue may be that your current device will lose service because your service has been transferred to the new device. As a result, you don’t have service, but you’re on the hook for paying for the new device. In this case, you’ll want to reach out directly to your wireless provider.
If you become a victim of a different kind of identity theft than what’s listed here, the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website and the Identity Theft Resource Center both provide helpful information about the many different variations of identity theft that fraudsters commit and are great resources where you can start your research to begin restoring your identity.