Identity theft is a breach of privacy and can have serious financial consequences. Discovering that you've been the victim of identity theft can leave you with a range of emotions - fear, anger, worry, and frustration. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to report identity theft and prevent damage to your credit and other assets.
Report Identity Theft to the FTC
The first step in reporting an identity theft is to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file your report online, or by calling 877-438-4338. The TTY number is 866-653-4261. According to USA.gov, you will receive an "ID theft affidavit" after making your report to the FTC. Once your complaint has been filed, the FTC will let you know what next steps are needed depending on what type of fraud was committed.
File a Report With Local Police
To complete your identity theft report, you'll also need to contact your local law enforcement agency to report the theft. Call the office's regular business number, not 911 or another emergency number. A complete identity theft report includes both a copy of the police report or the report number, along with your identity theft affidavit from the FTC.
While the local police likely won't be able to investigate the identity theft the way they would a common crime because identity theft crosses jurisdictions and isn't in their normal scope of work, getting a police report will give you an added level of credibility and help you get the assistance you need to resolve the problem. Additionally, the police do watch for patterns or indications that multiple small thefts might be part of a bigger crime picture.
Put a Fraud Alert or Freeze on Your Credit Report
The next thing to do when you realize you're a victim of identity theft is to alert the credit reporting agencies. You can choose to either put a fraud alert or a full credit freeze on your credit report.
Using a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders that they should take extra verification steps before extending credit. To activate a fraud alert, you only need to contact one of the three credit agencies. The information will be shared between the agencies, so a fraud alert will exist at all three credit bureaus.
You can contact the agency of your choice online or by calling their toll-free number:
There are three kinds of fraud alerts available. Regardless of the type you need to file, you will need to provide proof of your identity.
- Initial fraud alert. If you're concerned that you might become a victim of identity theft, you can put a 90-day alert on your credit report.
- Extended fraud alert. If you know you have been a victim of identity theft, you can put a seven-year fraud alert on your credit report. You will need to provide the agency with a copy of your identity theft report.
- Active duty fraud alert. If you are in the military on active duty and concerned about identity theft, you can put a one-year alert on your credit report.
Once an alert is on your report, you can either let it expire or request to have it removed before expiration. Requesting to have it removed will require a specific process for each credit bureau.
Using a Full Credit Freeze
If you want to take your protection one step further, you can ask for a credit freeze from each of the three credit agencies. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score or keep you from getting your free annual credit report.
A freeze prevents any creditors you don't currently do business with from accessing your credit report at all, so any new applications are automatically declined. Once your freeze is in place, each credit agency will send a letter with a unique PIN or password. Keep this in a safe place.
If you wish to apply for new credit with a freeze in place, you'll have to contact each credit agency about 'thawing' the account to allow the application to be approved. You will need the PIN or password provided by the agency.
Contact Affected Financial Institutions
You'll need to contact any financial institutions that were involved in the identity theft. For example, if your credit cards were stolen or compromised, contact the affected credit card companies. If your checkbook was stolen or a check was forged, contact your bank.
You can use the general customer service number and ask for the fraud department, or you can find out if your bank has a specific fraud-reporting hotline and use that instead. Each financial institution has its own fraud reporting and handling processes, so be prepared to prove your identity, provide details of the incident, and share your identity theft report.
Notify the IRS
An identity thief can use your social security number for more than just credit. They can also try to steal your tax refund or even get a job under your name (which could impact your tax bracket and other tax-related information). If your social security number was part of the information that was compromised, you'll need to notify the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) right away, either online or by calling 800-908-4490.
The IRS will ask you to fill out IRS Form 14039, which is their Identity Theft Affidavit. You can type directly into the form, then print and mail it.
After Reporting Identity Theft
Reporting identity theft is only the first step. Fully recovering from having your identity stolen takes quite some time and can be a lot of work. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission offer a lot of helpful resources and can help you understand and work through the legal issues and recovery steps. You also may want to consider identity theft protection for the future.