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Identity theft tends to sneak up on its victims—an unknown charge on the credit card statement, a drop in credit scores, finding out from the IRS that your tax refund has been claimed already. Because no one ever expects to be a victim of identity theft, they are often at a loss of what to do when it happens. Do you call the police? Do you shut down all your credit cards? Will your bank handle these cases of fraud, or do you have to deal with it?
The quicker authorities know that identity theft has happened, the quicker you can get your name, your property, and your reputation rectified. To report identity theft, there are certain steps every victim needs to take.
Report Identity Fraud to the FTC
The first stop to reporting identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has a designated identity theft website that offers step-by-step instructions to help victims reach mediation. The site allows users to report incidents of identity theft or follow up on specific types of data theft situations, such as data breach, tax fraud or stolen information. The site will then give you the opportunity to file an identity theft report, which is used by law enforcement agencies in their investigation.
Contact Your Creditors
Next, alert your creditors to notify them of fraud so they can issue you new credit cards or accounts and remove fraudulent charges.
Consider Filing a Police Report
For many, the gut reaction to identity theft is to contact the police and report the crime. But local law enforcement may not be able to do anything, especially if the theft involves internet crime. However, the FTC, which acts as the primary law enforcement agency for identity theft, offers suggestions on when individuals should file a police report:
- You can identify the person who stole your identity or used it fraudulently
- You have specific information that can aid a police investigation
- Your identity was used fraudulently in an encounter with the police, like a traffic stop
- A creditor or other entity requires you to file a police report
If you decide to file a police report, take a copy of your FTC report and provide as many details as possible.
Notify Credit Bureaus
Next, report the incident to the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) so they know the identity theft has occurred. This allows the bureau to put a fraud alert on your credit report, which should lead to even greater diligence before approving any new accounts under your name. You can provide a phone number and request the bureau to reach out to you directly about new activity on the account. No need to contact all of the credit bureaus; once you notify one of the bureaus to request a fraud alert, that bureau will automatically notify the other two.
Dispute Errors Caused by Identity Theft
Identify theft can often result in a drop in your credit score and other errors, so you'll want to dispute any problems as soon as possible. To dispute items on your Experian credit report, you can begin by initiating a report at the online dispute center, by phone or by mail.
To dispute errors, begin a new form, click on the disputed information on your report, select the reason why you are disputing the information, and submit. Experian will provide updates throughout the process, which normally takes about 30 days.
Once the dispute is resolved, you'll learn whether the disputed information was deleted or remains because the information was deemed to be accurate. Filing a dispute won't impact your credit score, but you may see changes based on the final decision regarding the disputed information. If your disputed information remains in your file, you can appeal this, but you'll need to gather more information to prove your case.
Protect Your Credit
After you've reported the identity theft to the proper authorities and begun the process to settle disputes in your credit reports, you may want to take one or two more steps to continue to protect your credit. Those are to lock your credit or add a security freeze. You have to initiate the security freeze with all of the credit bureaus separately, and once frozen, you'll need to contact each again to lift the freeze if you're applying for a loan, credit card or other credit product that requires a credit check. All three credit bureaus also allow you to lock your credit when you enroll in their individual programs. Certain credit lock programs may also offer extra benefits such as credit monitoring. These options allow you to add protection to your credit and give you peace of mind.
Resolving identity theft isn't always easy, but following the reporting steps is a vital part of the process. Keep records of each step and of any proof you come across so you are able to prove your complaint and win your disputes. Then be patient. Resolving identity theft is a time-consuming process, taking weeks or months. The more you provide to authorities, the better they can resolve your case.