10 Steps to Identity Recovery

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Becoming a victim of identity theft can be frightening and overwhelming. The resources throughout the IDWise website provide a wealth of information about privacy management, but here is a concise version of what you'll need to do to recover your identity.

1. Replace missing documents.

If you are missing important identifying documents, you will need to file a report with the appropriate agency to replace them.

  • Missing driver's license: Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (or your state's equivalent), cancel the lost license, and arrange for a replacement. Request a note be placed in your file so no one else can request an ID in your name.
  • Missing passport: The U.S. State Department's website has directions for reporting and re-issuing lost or stolen passports. If you do not need to replace your passport, you can call 1-877-487-2278 (TTY 1-888-874-7793) to file a report.
  • Lost or stolen Social Security number or card: If you wish to replace a lost Social Security card, you can do so by following the Social Security Administration's directions found here.
  • Lost or stolen credit card/debit card/checks: Report the theft to the financial institution or credit card issuer and request that they stop payment on transactions. Request replacement cards.

2. Create an Identity Theft Report.

There are two components to an Identity Theft Report: a police report and an Identity Theft Affidavitfrom the Federal Trade Commission, which works closely with victims of identity theft to help law enforcement track down criminals.

  • Gather your documents, including your Social Security card, driver's license, and utility bills.
  • Create an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC will collect details regarding your theft and refer complaints to other government agencies and businesses. You can produce your affidavit online at www.ftc.gov/complaint or by phone at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY 1-866-653-4261). You may also print a PDF version of the affidavit and complete it by hand. You do not need to mail it to the FTC; simply make multiple copies for your files.
  • Contact local law enforcement. Bring a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, a government-issued photo ID, proof of your address, and any additional proof of the theft (bank account statements, credit card statements, etc.). You should also bring along the FTC's "Memo to Law Enforcement."
  • Complete and file a police report and ask for a copy of the report for your records. At a minimum, be sure to get the report number.

3. Create an initial fraud alert and order your credit reports.

Placing an initial fraud alert makes it difficult for identity thieves to open fraudulent accounts in your name. To do this, simply contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (or annualcreditreport.com), and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your account. Request that this agency alert the other two on your behalf. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you are telling businesses that they must first verify your identity before responding to any credit requests.

Placing a fraud alert is completely free and the alert will remain in place for 90 days.

When placing your fraud alert, take this opportunity to request your credit report. You are legally entitled to one free copy of your credit report per year with each of the three bureaus. Your credit report will show if any fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name. Report any errors—such as accounts you did not open or debts that do not belong to you—to credit agencies.

4. Request an extended fraud alert.

Creating an Identity Theft Report qualifies you for an extended fraud alert, which stays in place for seven years and requires creditors to contact you by phone whenever an attempt is made to secure credit in your name. It also allows you to receive two free credit reports, within 12 months, from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies. These reports allow you to closely monitor your credit.

To request the extended alert, you must contact all three credit reporting agencies separately. Ask each agency to place an extended fraud alert on your file. You may be asked to complete a form; if so, send a copy of your Identity Theft Report with the completed form.

5. Consider a credit freeze.

If you would like more control over your credit than what is offered with an extended fraud alert, you may consider requesting a security freeze, which entirely prevents anyone other than you from accessing your credit report. A security freeze stays in effect until you request it to be lifted, and should only be used if you will not need credit extended in the near future—for example, if you don't have plans to secure a car loan or open a new credit card. If you do need credit extended during the alert period, you can request a temporary lift.

To request a security freeze, you must use each agency's online process or submit a letter via certified mail.

6. Act quickly if you suspect medical identity theft.

If you suspect your medical records have been stolen or altered, it is important to act immediately. If a thief uses your name or Social Security number to receive medical treatment, his or her medical information can compromise your personal medical file.

  • Contact your doctor, explain the situation, and request copies of your medical records.
  • Review your records carefully, and report any errors to your medical provider.
  • Send a letter to your both your healthcare provider and your health insurance carrier. Explain the error and ask that your file be updated to only include accurate information. Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report. Send the letters via certified mail, with return receipt. You should receive a reply within 30 days.
  • Notify the credit reporting agencies of the medical related issue.
  • If you haven't already, review your credit reports for any medical debts.

7. Clear compromised tax records.

Cyberthieves sometimes use stolen Social Security numbers to file tax returns or apply for jobs. If you have experienced tax ID theft, you should contact the IRS and work with a tax fraud specialist, following these steps:

  • Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1‑800‑908‑4490 or www.irs.gov/identitytheft.
  • Report the fraud, and request and complete IRS form 14039.
  • Send the IRS a copy of your police report and form 14039, along with proof of your identity, such as driver's license or passport.

8. Dispute fraudulent activity on financial accounts.

If you discover fraudulent activity on any of your credit, debit, or investment accounts, you will need todispute the charges with the financial institution involved.

  • Reset all passwords and PINs for your accounts.
  • Track down the dispute resolution address for the businesses.
  • Contact the dispute department and find out if they'll accept your Identity Theft Report. If not, request that the business send you the forms they use.
  • Complete and send a dispute letter to the business using certified mail. The letter should include an explanation that you are a victim of identity theft, a list and documentation of the errors, and a request to remove the fraudulent info from your account. Send a copy of your Identity Theft Report, or the forms required by the business, with your letter.
  • Request a letter confirming that the fraudulent information has been removed. Save a copy of this letter for your files.

9. Monitor your identity for the future.

The best protection against becoming a victim again is adopting proactive habits to keep your identity safe.

Request your credit reports three times a year. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies once a year. Mark your calendar to request one report every four months.

Free reports can also be requested from www.annualcreditreport.com.

Review all account and billing statements. Be on the lookout for suspicious charges or bills for accounts you are unfamiliar with.

Protect your personal information. Think carefully about the information you share online, and take steps to keep personal information safe at home, such as investing in a shredder. Protect your computers with antivirus and firewall software. Do not open email attachments, or click on links, from unknown senders.

10. Take care of yourself.

Identity theft can be a traumatic experience. Victims may feel violated and the stress can even contribute to physical illness. Find a trusted friend, relative, or professional with whom you can discuss your feelings. Research from Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, also shows that keeping a journal helps victims move past the negative experience and provides both physical and psychological benefits.

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Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy. IDWise offers clear and accessible resources to empower citizens—both online and offline—to be better informed and make smarter choices to protect their personal information.

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