How to Recover Your Identity After Identity Theft

It is scary but there are resources to help

The unthinkable has happened. You've just learned that your identity was stolen. Now what?

First, do not panic. Panic is your worst enemy in any situation because it can influence you to take actions that aren't at all useful. Instead, try to remain calm. It could take a long time before everything is back to normal, but these actions can help you regain control of your identity no matter where you are in the process.

01
First Contact (FTC)

Identity theft keyboard
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Discovering that your identity was stolen is usually shocking and probably scary. It's such a shock not just because it's been stolen, but because the damage has already been done. You are most likely to discover identity fraud when you receive a tax bill, have a credit or mortgage application denied, or when you're arrested for something that you didn't do.

One key to recovering from identity theft quickly is to act quickly. Reporting the theft to the right agencies is critical. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identify Theft bureau should be the first agency you contact.

02
Next Steps

After you file identity theft complaints with the FTC and your local law enforcement agencies, what's next? It's hard to know how to proceed. Your first instinct is to fight problems as they arise. But there's a better way.

Instead of waiting to find out what areas of your life will be affected by identity theft, you can begin monitoring your credit report and managing any financial damages that have done. Since most identity theft is discovered because of the financial damage that's done, this is a very important step in your recovery.

 

03
Repairing Your Credit

Credit reporting agencies (CRA) such as Equifax and Experian collect information about your financial and legal background. That information is used to compile a credit report. If you've spent a lifetime paying your bills on time and staying out of jail, your credit report will reflect that.

Credit reports are sold to creditors, employers, insurers, and others who may want or need to know whether you are a good risk. Based on your credit report, you may or may not be hired for a job, offered a loan, or granted a mortgage. 

When your identity is stolen, there is an excellent chance that your credit has been compromised. As a result, your credit report may now reflect problems you didn't cause, and that may cause serious issues down the line. Fortunately, you can order a free copy of your credit reports through the official government-approved website AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you do discover problems with your credit reports, you will need to address them directly by placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit file and then fixing errors. To do that, you can contact the credit agencies directly.

 

04
Understand Your Rights

Even when you're moving quickly and handling everything properly, you'll encounter roadblocks on the way to recovering your identity. Some of those roadblocks can be cleared if you understand your rights as a consumer. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can inform you of your rights.

Visit the website of the Identity Theft Bureau of the FTC, where you will find a huge array of resources. Among other tools, you'll find a step-by-step guide to recovery, as well as sample letters to write, contact information, and much more.

05
Don't Get Complacent

One mistake that identity theft victims make is assuming that once they've cleaned up the damage done by identity theft, it's over. Not true. It's not all that uncommon for identity thieves to strike the same victims over and over again.

The modus operandi for some identity thieves is to attack the same victim numerous times. To prevent thieves from striking repeatedly, you need to constantly monitor your credit and be vigilant against future identity theft attacks.