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9 Simple Steps to Take if Your Identity is Stolen

According to the U.S. News and World Report, 14.4 million people experienced identity theft in 2019. Even more disturbingly, many of these consumers incurred personal expenses due to identity theft, which they were unable to get reimbursed.

Identity theft is already an inconvenient and high-stress experience. It shouldn't have financial costs as well.

In this article, we'll explain what to do when your identity is stolen and how to deal with identity theft's lingering effects on your credit and personal security.

For your convenience, here's a summary of the most critical steps to take after you discover that you're the victim to an identity thief or to this kind of fraud:

  1. Determine the scope of the fraud.
  2. Contact the FTC.
  3. Put a fraud alert on your credit.
  4. Contact the police.
  5. Get in touch with the IRS.
  6. Secure ALL of your accounts.
  7. Reboot your financial accounts.
  8. Start practicing "good credit hygiene.
  9. Replace your Social Security card.

Step #1: Determine the Scope of the Fraud

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, your first move should be to try to discover which of your accounts the thieves have compromised.

How to Deal With Identity Theft 101: The Warning Signs

When searching for evidence of fraudulent activity or identity fraud, be on the lookout for these red flags:

  • Your bank account shows mysterious withdrawals and unauthorized charges
  • Merchants won't accept your checks
  • You're receiving calls from debt collectors about bills you didn't incur
  • Some of your mail is missing
  • You can't explain certain charges on your credit card statement(s)
  • You discover that your information was leaked in a data breach
  • Your health insurance provider tells you that you've used up all your benefits, even though you haven't visited the doctor very frequently this year

To figure out what's going on, call the fraud department of every company that claims that you owe them money. Keep records of these charges. Next, find out whether your identity has been compromised in ways you're not aware of by ordering a free credit report.

Step #2: Contact the FTC

As you seek to prove your identity theft and fraudulent charges to creditors, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can be a vital source of support. Filing a report with the FTC helps you to:

  • Dispute unauthorized charges on your credit cards or bank statements
  • Provide evidence of fraud to companies with fake accounts in your name
  • Make a plan for restoring your credit score

To make an identity theft report over the phone, call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).

Step #3: Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit

The emotional duress caused by a stolen identity can make it hard to remember what to do when your identity is stolen, even when certain actions seem like plain common sense.

That's why we've included this very obvious step in your identity recovery plan: putting a fraud alert on your credit.

A fraud alert lets credit card companies know that you've been the target of ID fraud. Once you've asked for a fraud alert, credit card companies and other institutions will not approve any new credit cards or loans unless they can verify that the request came from you.

You can place an initial fraud alert on your credit for free by calling one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax (1-800-349-9960), TransUnion(1-888-909-8872) andExperian(1-888-397-3742). Once you've asked one credit bureau for a fraud alert, they'll inform the others.

Step #4: Contact the Police

If someone local stole your identity, such as a mail thief, telling local law enforcement via police report about the incident could help get them apprehended. Furthermore, by giving the police an account of your experience, you'll help them to discover if there are any widespread identity theft schemes in your area.

Depending on where you live, your state may have a cybercrime division that handles regional identity theft and fraudulent transaction complaints. In that case, it's even more important that you provide them with a police report, as your identity theft may be part of a larger pattern.

Step #5: Get in Touch with the IRS

Do you know what to do if your identity is stolen and you suspect that your social security number is being used for unauthorized purposes? Do you know how to report identity theft to social security?

You should immediately contact the IRS if you discover that:

  • You're being taxed for wages received from a company other than your employer
  • You can't access your tax refund, disability benefits, Medicare benefits, survivors' benefits, retirement benefits, or SSI income that you usually receive from the federal government
  • Someone else has filed a tax return that uses your social security number
  • You're told that you owe back taxes, despite not being obligated to file taxes

Alert the IRS to your situation online by following these directions or by calling 1-800-908-4490.

Step #6: Secure ALL Your Accounts

This part of our plan on how to deal with identity theft focuses on a crucial factor in fraud prevention: cybersecurity.

When reviewing your online accounts with your bank and other businesses, ask yourself how many of your passwords:

  • Use guessable information about you, such as your mother's maiden name, your address, or your birth year
  • Are shared with other accounts
  • Contain only words, rather than numbers and symbols

If any of your passwords have one of the above security flaws, it's time to upgrade them. Adding two-factor authentication to certain accounts, such as your PayPal or Amazon accounts, also ensures that thieves can't wire themselves money or go shopping on your dime. For more tips on identity theft prevention, check out our guide on how to protect your social security number and personal information.

Step #7: Reboot Your Financial Accounts

If you take any piece of advice on what to do when your identity is stolen, take this one: reboot your financial accounts. By that, we mean that you should close and reopen all of your financial accounts, from your checking account to every last one of your credit cards.

Why? The sad fact is, identity thieves can use your bank account and credit card numbers to make numerous purchases online. The best way to stop them from doing this is to:

  • Cancel your bank account(s) and open new ones with completely different account numbers
  • Destroy your debit card(s) and ask for new ones
  • Close your credit card accounts and reopen them with different account numbers
  • Order replacement credit cards with new account numbers

Make Sure You're the Only Person Who Gets Your Mail

Did you know that identity thieves sometimes redirect your mail to themselves? They do this so that they can apply for credit cards in your name without you knowing. All they have to do is file for a change of address in your name with the Post Office.

To prevent them from engaging in this devious practice, notify your local Postal Inspector that you recently experienced identity theft. Ask the Postal Inspector as well as your mail carrier to forward all mail in your name to your address (or, to be even safer, a locked P.O. box.)

You can contact your nearest Postal Inspector online, or by calling 1-800-275-8777.

Step #8: Start Practicing "Good Credit Hygiene"

You've learned what to do when your identity is stolen, and how to protect your online accounts, but that's not the only way to defend yourself against identity fraud.

Another technique experts recommend when it comes to how to deal with identity theft has to do with your credit "hygiene."

Just as you shower regularly to maintain your physical hygiene, you should check your bank and credit card statements on a weekly or even daily basis as "good credit hygiene."

That might sound extreme, but by taking the time to scan your accounts briefly, you can ensure that identity thieves don't slip any unauthorized charges under your radar.

Other aspects of "good credit hygiene" include:

  • Opening your mail immediately to make sure you're not behind on any payments
  • Double-checking billing amounts when you pay your bills
  • Keeping track of your monthly expenses (and which services you are and aren't using)

In the same way that brushing your teeth twice daily saves you money at the dentist's office, practicing good credit hygiene every week keeps your finances healthy and your identity secure.

Step #9: Replace Your Social Security Card

We've explained how to deal with identity theft when it comes to your credit, financial accounts, and cybersecurity, but you may be wondering what to do if you need a new social security card.

If you're quarantining due to COVID-19, you're probably not too eager to brave the long lines at your local social security office. Or perhaps you're a busy person who prefers to accomplish errands remotely whenever possible.

If either scenario applies to you, there is a solution. Via the E-Records tool offered by NotYourSocialSecurity (NYSS), you can replace your social security card without leaving the safety of your own home. However, if you would rather complete the process in-person, you'll want to find social security office locations near you.

For a step-by-step process on how to replace your social security card, check out our guide on social security card replacement.

Not Your Social Security: Simplifying Social Security

NYSS specializes in making social security card replacement simple and stress-free. Their experts take care of the complicated stuff for you, so you can focus on living your life - not tedious bureaucratic processes or confusing paperwork.

Learn how hassle-free social security card replacement can be - try our E-Records tool today.


The Ascent. Use These 9 Simple Rituals for Perfect Financial Hygiene.

Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. Warning Signs of Identity Theft.

Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. What to Do Right Away.

Lifelock. What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen: 14 Steps.

U.S. News and World Report. 10 Things to Do After Your Identity Is Stolen.