Steps to Take If You Suspect You're a Victim of Identity Theft

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Steps to Take If You Suspect You're a Victim of Identity Theft

Is someone using your name to gain access to credit? Perhaps there’s a car in your name that you didn’t buy, or a utility account at a property you don’t own. Identity theft can spell financial disaster for many people, and even worse, if someone commits a crime in your name, you could suffer more damaging consequences.

So, how does someone steal your identity? It usually starts with a data breach.

Data breaches have become more common in the digital world because data is easier to access, especially if solid encryption and other reasaonable safeguards aren’t used. In 2018, there were multiple hacks into consumer records, such as at Macy’s, Exactis, and Ticketfly. Millions of people’s names, emails, phone numbers, home addresses, and more were exposed. In 2019, there has already been several more large-scale breaches, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Advent Health, and Fortnite.

If your information was stolen, it could be sold on the dark web, which means someone could be using your identity right now. Many people find out they’re victims of identity theft when they run a background check on themselves. The information contained in those reports may be able to reveal financial records or even addresses with your name that you don’t recognize.

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If you find evidence that you may be the victim of identity theft, you can take the following steps to report fraudulent activity and begin the process of recovering your finances and credit score.

Change All Passwords

The first thing you should do is change all your current passwords for any online accounts you have. Do not use passwords you’ve used in the past, and make sure the new ones are strong: random numbers, letters, and symbols, lower- and uppercase letters, long strings of characters, etc.

Check Your Reports

Run a background check report on yourself and check your credit reports. If any fraudulent accounts were created by someone else using your identity, you’re likely to find them here.

Contact Your Bank

If you think that your bank account information has been compromised, you should contact your bank to notify them. You may even need to shut down your existing account and open a new one.

Request a Credit Freeze

Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) can put a freeze or hold on all new credit requests. Doing so can stop an identity thief in their tracks if they try to apply for credit in your name.

Report Your Identity Theft

Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report any verifiable instances of identity theft. The FTC may not look into your case personally, but it has a helpful website with steps you will typically need to take to report the theft. Note that you will likely be asked to provide proof of your own identity and address, as well as your evidence of the fraudulent activity. Once you’ve reported the fraud, you should receive a recovery plan and an identity theft report from the FTC, which you can share with the appropriate parties listed below.

Notify Creditors

Once you have your identity theft report, you’ll want to send copies to creditors. This can help you prove fraud, and the information used by the identity thief shouldn’t be reported to CRAs.

Contact Credit Reporting Agencies

You’ll also need to send a copy of your identity theft report to the three major CRAs: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These agencies should remove the fraudulent accounts, but keep an eye on your credit reports.

Having your identity stolen can feel violating, and recovering from it can be a lengthy process. Make sure you follow the outlined steps above, and keep a close eye on your financial accounts to reduce the chances of it happening again.

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Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

About the author

Justin Lavelle

Justin Lavelle is the social media director and blogger for He is based out of Northern Virginia.