Every year, hundreds of thousands of burglaries happen in the U.S. During a burglary, a thief might grab valuables like cash, jewelry and electronic devices. But they might also swipe things that can cause a long-term headache—credit cards and other items that could be used to steal your identity.
If you were the victim of a burglary, follow these steps to recover and hopefully stop or at least limit the impact of identity theft.
1. File a Police Report
Call 911 to file a report with your local law enforcement agency about the burglary, including the theft of any personal information. If you feel you may be in danger—perhaps the burglar or burglars are still there—leave your house and make the call from another place.
Once you've contacted the authorities, one or two officers typically come to your house, do a preliminary investigation and write up an official report.
2. Take an Inventory
Once law enforcement officers have made sure no thieves remain at your home, do an inventory of what was taken. Create an in-depth list of each item that you believe is missing. This might include cash, jewelry and electronic devices, as well as credit cards and documents that could be used to steal your identity.
When it comes to the items related to identity theft, provide details about any credit cards or documents that were stolen. For instance, you'll want to supply specifics, such as numbers and expiration dates, for each credit card that's missing.
Law enforcement officers will need this inventory as part of their investigation.
3. Contact Your Insurance Company
Now that you've compiled an inventory of missing items, reach out to your homeowners or renters insurance company. Be prepared to provide the same inventory that you gave to the agency investigating the crime.
Notifying your insurer will set in motion the process of filing a claim for the stolen items.
This claim will be separate from any claim you make if you have identity theft protection, either through a provider of homeowners and renters insurance or a seller of standalone coverage. This type of insurance helps cover costs associated with recovering from identity theft.
4. Place a Fraud Alert
You have the right to set up a free fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). A fraud alert instructs potential creditors to verify your identity before granting credit in the event that someone is using your personal information without your permission to open accounts. Once you request a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting agencies, they will notify the other two automatically.
A fraud alert lasts either one year or seven years, depending on your circumstances, and you have the right to set up a new alert once one expires.
5. Consider a Credit Freeze
As an alternative to a fraud alert, you have the right to freeze your credit. This can be done at no charge with each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report. This means creditors can't access your credit file to review a new credit application, making it difficult or impossible for you or anyone to open a new credit account in your name while the freeze is active. You can temporarily remove, or "thaw," the credit freeze when you're trying to open a new credit account. Keep in mind that a freeze doesn't block all access to your credit reports; they can still be accessed when renting an apartment, buying insurance or applying for a job.
A credit freeze remains in effect until you lift it.
6. Contact Your Credit Card Issuers
If any credit cards or credit card numbers were stolen, reach out to the issuers as soon as possible. Acting quickly can prevent or limit unauthorized transactions from showing up on an account.
Once you notify a credit card issuer about a stolen card or card number, they can deactivate the card and send you a new one.
If you report the theft of a card before it's been used, the card issuer can't hold you responsible for any fraudulent transactions made by someone else. If any fraudulent charges were made before you report the theft, the most you'll be on the hook for is $50 per card.
If the card itself was not stolen but rather the credit card number was stolen, you're not liable for any unauthorized transactions made by someone else—as long as it's reported within 60 days of receiving a statement that reflects the fraudulent activity.
7. Notify Your Financial Institution
Tell financial institutions where you maintain savings, checking and investment accounts that your home was burglarized. Just as with credit card issuers, these financial institutions will work to protect you against fraud.
8. File a Report With the FTC
If the burglary led to identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. Once you establish an account, the FTC will automatically provide a plan to help you recover from the identity theft.
9. Take Action Regarding Stolen IDs
If any IDs were stolen during the burglary, note this in the inventory that you provide to a law enforcement agency and your insurance company. Among the IDs you should be concerned about are your:
- Driver's license: Contact your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) to report the theft of your driver's license and obtain a replacement.
- Passport: Report the theft to the U.S. State Department either online, by email or in person. Once you've done that, you can apply for a new passport.
- Social Security card or number: If your Social Security card was stolen, you can order a replacement online, by mail or in person. Report a stolen Social Security number to the FTC if you believe you're the victim of identity theft.
10. Monitor Your Credit Reports and Accounts for Fraud
After the burglary, regularly check your credit reports as well as your credit and bank accounts to watch for fraudulent activity. If you suspect fraud has occurred, immediately notify your credit card issuer or financial institution.
Credit monitoring can help you keep tabs on any changes to your credit reports without you having to actively check them. Any requests for new credit accounts, along with a variety of other changes, will trigger an alert to you so you can take action if the attempt is the result of identity theft.
11. Secure Your Personal Information
As you recover from the burglary and any identity fraud, be sure to keep your personal documents and information as secure as possible. Here are some tips:
- Keep important documents in a safe at home. These might include birth certificates, tax returns, wills and passports.
- Create strong passwords. Every password should be a hard-to-guess combination of numbers, letters and symbols.
- Use a password manager. Instead of writing down passwords, use a password manager to keep passwords safer and more organized.
The Bottom Line
Being the victim of a burglar can be distressing. So, too, can being the victim of identity theft after a burglar steals documents or personal data. Fortunately, you can do a lot to bounce back from any identity theft that occurs and avoid identity theft down the road. This includes regularly monitoring your credit so you can spot suspicious activity.