How to Recover After Identity Theft

Mitigate the Damage and Repair Your Credit

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.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

A worried man on the phone reporting identity theft to the FTC
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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.

Contact Law Enforcement

Woman reporting identity theft to the police
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When you file an identity theft police report, whether the police come to talk to you directly or you are filling it out online, you will want to provide a lot of specific information. If you know specific dates of fraudulent purchases, accounts that were opened in your name, businesses that were used, or have some idea who may be behind the theft, you will want to include that information in the report.

Once you have filed an identity theft police report, make sure you receive a copy of it. 

Monitor Your Credit Report

A credit report being monitored after fraudulent activity shows it has changed to poor.
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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 may be to fight problems as they arise. But there's a better way.

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 create, and that may cause serious issues down the line. Instead of waiting to see what happens, you can begin monitoring your credit report and managing any financial damage that has been done. 

Since most identity theft is discovered because of the financial damage that's done, this is a very important step in your recovery.

Place Fraud Alerts and Security Freezes

A frozen credit card can help stop an identity thief from causing more damage.
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If you do discover problems with your credit reports, you will need to address them directly by placing a fraud alert and/or security freeze on your credit file, and then go about fixing the errors. 

A fraud alert is a service that is offered through the credit bureaus. It adds one more layer of protection to your identity. If you, or someone else, apply for credit using your name, the creditor or lender will be prompted to verify identity before giving a line of credit.

security freeze or credit freeze is a service that will lock down a person’s credit file so that a lender cannot check their credit. This is also a good way to prevent criminals from opening new accounts under the name or Social Security number of someone who has frozen their credit. 

Understand Your Rights

Visit the website of the Identity Theft Bureau of the FTC
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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 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.

Don't Get Complacent

Be vigilant against future identity theft attacks.
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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.

To prevent thieves from striking repeatedly, you need to constantly monitor your credit and be vigilant against future identity theft attacks.