7 Steps to Fight Back Against Identity Theft

7 Steps to Fight Back Against Identity Theft article image.

Through December 31, 2023, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax will offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com to help you protect your financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.

If your identity is stolen, you should notify the authorities along with your bank and credit card providers, and immediately review your credit report to look for fraudulent activity.

(Experian provides a free credit report, with no credit card required. Additionally, you can get a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus every 12 months on AnnualCreditReport.com.)

Identity fraud is on the rise and ignoring identity theft poses big risks to you and your financial health.

According to Javelin Research and Strategy's 2018 Identity Fraud Study, 6.64% of U.S. adults were victims of identity fraud in 2017, an increase of almost one million victims from the previous year.

Yet the data indicates too many Americans aren't taking identity theft seriously.

According to a recent survey by Experian, half of U.S. adults don't think they're likely to ever experience identity theft, as they believe poor credit makes them unattractive targets.

Additionally, while most believe credit monitoring and alerts could help prevent identity theft, few people take advantage of these identity protection products.

How Identity Theft Can Harm Your Finances

There are numerous downsides to being victimized by identity theft. Using your personal data, an identity thief could open new credit accounts or apply for unsecured loans. Identity theft could also damage your credit report—jeopardizing your future applications for credit cards, loans, or even jobs.

Consequently, if you suspect someone has gotten their hands on your Social Security number or another critical piece of identifying information and may be trying to 'steal' your identity, you need to act fast to limit any potential damage.

7 Steps to Fight Back Against Identity Theft

Fraudsters are getting more sophisticated in their identity theft attacks, and are using more complex and difficult-to-detect monetization schemes, making identity theft that much harder to prevent and more difficult to detect.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to minimize the damage of identity theft if you act quickly and decisively.

1. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report

Step number one in an identity theft scenario is to add a 90-day fraud alert to your credit report. If you contact Experian, they'll share the fraud alert with Equifax and TransUnion.

This will flag any lenders or creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts. You may also want to consider a credit freeze, but there are items to consider before freezing your credit report.

2. Review Your Credit Report

You'll also want to review your credit report to see if anything unfamiliar appears on it. You can get a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus every 12 months and also get your free Experian credit report here on Experian.com.

If you're a member of Experian IdentityWorks or Experian CreditWorks, you can easily view your Experian credit report (along with all accounts and inquiries) and then easily dispute anything online or speak with one of our representatives.

3. Report Identity Theft to the FTC

Next, go to the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Reporting website IdentityTheft.org to file a report. The FTC will walk you through your report, point you to the right recovery resources, and ultimately help you build an individual identity theft response plan to get you on the road to recovery.

This report will document the identity theft and allow you to prove you've been the victim of identity theft and extend the fraud alert for seven years. This will also help you if you need to file a police report or provide proof of identity theft to anyone else.

After you file an identity theft report with the FTC, you'll be issued an Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit.

The Identity Theft Affidavit covers the following items:

What kind of identity theft are you reporting?
  • There are various types of identity theft and fraud.
  • The best next steps may vary slightly depending on what exactly you're the victim of.
  • For example, a stolen credit card is something that can easily be canceled, but actual theft or a stolen Social Security card will have additional measures to take to recover from those crimes.
Has the identity thief already used your personal data? If so, how?
  • In the case of a data breach, your personal information may have been compromised but you're not yet the victim of theft or fraud.
  • If someone has already opened an account in your name or used your identity to do something fraudulent, there may be recovery steps you also need to take.
Do you know the individual who stole your identity?
  • Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of people have their identity stolen by someone they know.
  • A Javelin report in 2014 showed that 550,000 fraud and identity theft victims said that they had their information compromised by someone they knew.
Other questions to consider:
  • What is the name and address of your bank?
  • When did you first realize your identity was stolen?
  • On what date did you notice any fraudulent activity?
  • What's the current level of exposure of your personal data?
  • Have you been contacted by a debt collector as a result of identity theft?
  • Describe the identity theft scenario, including timeline, as specifically as possible.

4. Assess the Damage and Report the Fraud

You'll also want to list any personal data (for example, credit card numbers, email addresses or your Social Security number) after an identity theft scenario. Keep the list as a hard copy or digital file for accurate recordkeeping for law enforcement officials and for creditors working on your behalf in an identity theft investigation.

Contact Experian at the phone number on your credit report or if you're a paid member of Experian CreditWorks or Experian IdentityWorks, you can also speak with a fraud resolution specialist who will walk you through all the steps you need to take.

You'll get a dedicated representative who you can call back directly and who will help you with disputing the information and sending letters to the other credit bureaus. Anyone can dispute information on their own credit report and notify Experian and the other bureaus of fraud. You'll want to make sure you extend the fraud report on your credit file.

5. Contact Your Creditors and Financial Institutions

You'll want to let any creditors know if there were fraudulent accounts created in your name. Also, it's a good idea to let your existing lenders and banks know about the fraud so that they can keep an eye out for any red flags for additional theft.

Review all of your bank account documentation in the days, weeks and even months after a cybersecurity breach. Take a close look at all of your bank statements and use a credit monitoring service like Experian CreditWorks to make sure no one tries to access your credit.

6. Report the Fraud to the Appropriate State and Federal Agencies

This is another case where the type of theft dictates your actions. For example:

Type of Identity TheftWho to Notify
Driver's License FraudYour state's Department of Motor Vehicles
Social Security Number FraudThe FTC and U.S. Social Security Administration
Passport FraudU.S. State Department, Passport Services Department
Tax FraudThe FTC and IRS
Mail TheftU.S. Postal Inspection Service

7. Change Your Passwords

If you think any accounts have been breached, you should immediately change your passwords. Mixing up your digital passwords on your smartphone, computer, and financial accounts can also prevent future issues. Use complex and varied passwords for different accounts_that will minimize the chances that anyone will hack into more than one of your accounts going forward.

Be Aggressive When Confronting Identity Theft

The unfortunate truth is that repairing a damaged credit report can take several months, if not years, and may cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. There are additional impacts of identity theft victims deal with, such as time and emotional distress.

The takeaway? Fighting back from identity theft can involve a great deal of legwork, paperwork, and patience but it's absolutely essential to get to the bottom of what's going on in order to protect your good name.

For more information on responding to an identity theft attack, visit Experian's Victim Assistance site.