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If you believe you're a victim of identity theft, there are several steps you need to take to help rectify the situation. But is filing a police report one of them? You should file a police report after identity theft if you can provide evidence for the investigation, know the person or group responsible for the theft, or are asked for a report by a creditor or other entity.
Depending on how and what type of information is stolen, scammers may use your identity to siphon money from your financial accounts, open new accounts such as credit cards or phone plans, commit tax fraud, or apply for government benefits. In 2020, 1.4 million Americans filed identity theft reports, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a 29% increase over the previous year. The most common form of ID theft involved scammers using stolen information to apply for or receive government benefits, such as unemployment insurance.
Read on to find out the steps you need to take if you're a victim of identity theft, and when a police report may be necessary to help resolve the issue.
When Do I Need to Report Identity Theft to the Police?
There are many different forms of fraud and identity theft, and some warrant a police report more than others. Local law enforcement may be somewhat limited when investigating an internet crime or large data breach, and a police report may not be required for certain types of identity-related crimes. You should file a police report in the following situations:
- You know who committed the identity theft.
- You can provide specific information that may be able to help the police investigation.
- Your identity was used fraudulently in an encounter with the police.
- A creditor or other entity requires a police report as part of their investigation.
While not always required, filing a police report can potentially help the authorities catch and stop the person or group committing the crimes. Additionally, some creditors or companies may require you to obtain a police report in order to help you fix the damage.
Steps to Take if You're a Victim of identity Theft
If you believe you're a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:
- Call the impacted businesses. If you know how your information was used, call the relevant financial institutions or companies and ask for the fraud department. Inform them that your identity was stolen and ask that any accounts be closed or frozen.
- Check your credit report and request a fraud alert. Review your credit report to look for any new accounts or transactions you don't recognize. Additionally, place a free one-year fraud alert on your credit report so others cannot open a credit account in your name. Fraud alerts require creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity. Once you place a fraud alert with one of the three national consumer credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax), the other two will be notified and will also add a fraud alert. Another option is to request a credit freeze, which you'll have to lift if you want to apply for credit; you must place credit freezes with each bureau separately. You can check your credit reports for free with all three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Visit IdentityTheft.gov or call 877-438-4338 to report the theft (even if you don't file a police report). Once you provide details of the identity theft, you'll receive an identity theft report, a recovery plan and assistance with the recovery steps.
- File a police report. If you decide to file a police report or a creditor requires you to do so as part of their investigation, bring the following items with you to your local police office:
- A copy of your FTC report
- A valid government-issued ID with a photo
- Proof of address (a utility bill, credit card statement or similar)
- Any evidence of the ID theft
- Change your passwords. Update any logins or PINs on any impacted accounts. Creating strong passwords is one way to help avoid identity theft in the future.
- Have fraudulent charges removed from your accounts. Contact your creditors and request to have charges removed.
- Dispute any inaccurate information on your credit reports. If you believe fraudulent information remains on your reports after contacting creditors, dispute that information with the credit bureaus. If the credit bureau can confirm your claim, the information will be removed from your report.
You can also visit Experian's Identity Theft Victim Assistance page for more help.
How Can Identity Theft Affect My Credit?
Beyond financial loss, another harmful consequence of identity theft is damage to your credit. This can happen if the fraudster uses your Social Security number (three steps to take for stolen social security number) or other information to open credit cards and loans in your name. If they rack up bills and don't pay them, your credit report will reflect the missed payments and your credit score will suffer. This is even more damaging if the accounts go into collections.
Once the fraud is reported and any fraudulent information or accounts removed from your credit report, your credit can quickly rebound. If you need to apply for any new forms of credit while the investigation is ongoing, however, it could be challenging. If possible, wait until the ID theft issues are resolved before applying.
Identity theft can have plenty of other unexpected costs, such as emotional and physical distress, criminal records in your name and significant amounts of time trying to clean up the mess. Again, most of the damage can be fixed—but be prepared for a potentially lengthy process.
Stay Alert After Identity Theft
Once your acute identity theft crisis is resolved, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report over the coming months. Free credit monitoring is one of the easiest ways to stay vigilant and avoid future identity theft. It provides you with alerts about new inquiries and accounts, notifies you of suspicious activity, and makes it simple to dispute any potential inaccuracies. You can also learn about things that you can do that may reduce the risk of identity theft.