What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. This information could consist of your name, address, date of birth, social security number, etc. When your personal information is stolen and used to commit a crime or some type of fraud, that's considered identity theft.

Identity Theft Protection Services

Identity theft protection services are the first line of defense against any type of identity theft attempts against you and your loved ones. These services and can completely prevent identity theft due to the number of features provided. The following are some of the primary features provided in identity theft protection services:

  • Social Security Monitoring
  • Black Market Surveillance
  • Social Media Monitoring
  • Address Change Verification
  • Pay Day Loan Monitoring
  • Court Record Monitoring
  • Sex Offender Registration
  • Bank and Credit Card Activity Alerts
  • 401k and Investment Activity Alerts
  • Credit Score Monitoring
  • Credit Score Reporting
  • Bank Account Takeovers
  • Pay Day Loan Monitoring
  • Identity Restoration
  • Identity Theft Insurance Coverage

In the event your identity is stolen, these services will provide you with recovery services to help you recoup any loses that may occur. The following are the types of identity theft that an identity theft protection service can protect you from.

The Most Common Types of Identity Theft

There are any number of ways your identity could be stolen and used fraudulently; however, there are some means of identity theft that are more commonly used than others such as social security number identity theft and financial identity theft. Below are the most common types of identity theft explained. And below that are other types of identity theft that are used and while they are not as common, unfortunately, they are still used often enough for them to be a concern to everyone.

Social Security Number Identity Theft

This is when identity theft occurs by your social security card or number being stolen. Once an identity thief has your social security number he/she is able to sell it so it can be used in a number of ways, such as:

  • To sell on the dark web.
  • To sell to undocumented workers.
  • To sell to someone who will use it to steal property, money, services, etc.
  • To forge fraudulent documents.
  • To open credit cards or other types of accounts.

Always keep your social security number safe, never keep your social security card in your purse or wallet, and never give it out unless it's absolutely necessary. You could also pay for an identity monitoring service to help monitor the dark web and your credit reports, etc. for suspicious activity.

Financial Identity Theft

Financial identity theft is similar to social security identity theft with the same criminal intent uses involved. The difference is financial identity theft is when your other personal information is stolen and used fraudulently. For example, you might have your credit card, bank account information, etc. stolen and used fraudulently. When an identity thief steals any of your financial information he/she can use them to purchase goods and/or services, open new financial accounts or credit cards in your name, rent a home, pay for utilities, etc.

The best ways to prevent financial identity theft is to always keep your financial information secure, shred all documents that have any identifying information or account numbers on them, and to pay for an identity protection monitoring service.

Other Types of Identity Theft

Identity theft isn't limited to one method. Identity theft can be committed using more than one method. That's why you need to be aware of the different ways this type of crime can occur so you can do everything in your power to try and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Here are the different types of identity theft, how they occur, and how you can try to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft is when a criminal uses your social security number to fraudulently file a tax return in your name. The best way to protect yourself from this type of identity theft is to never give out your social security number unless you absolutely have to. Never carry your social security card in your wallet or purse. And never click on a link or respond to any type of solicitation whether that's an email, phone call, or other types of solicitation that says they are from the IRS. Even if they are verbally abusive or threatening you.

If you ever receive any type of inquiry that states they are from the IRS, don't respond. Rather, go to IRS.gov or call them at 1-800-829-1040 independent of the solicitation and verify if they did, in fact, contact you and why. This will eliminate any chance that you are dealing with a scammer or identity thief.

Senior Identity Theft

Seniors, for the most part, are more trusting, have more savings, more home equity, and are less likely to monitor their credit and other financial accounts. Therefore, senior identity theft is common.

Senior identity theft generally involves the theft of a senior's health insurance, Medicare, estate, military identity, or tax information. Seniors are targeted using phone scams, wire transfer fraud, and familiar fraud. This happens because many times the elderly are unable to guard themselves against or respond to such crimes. And sometimes it's because they don't want to portray themselves as unable to care for themselves which is their biggest fear.

The best way to avoid senior identity theft is to talk with seniors, whether they are friends or family and help them understand how identity theft happens and how they can avoid becoming victims. You could also offer to monitor their credit and financial accounts for them, depending on their age and your relationship with them. Or, you could sign them up for some senior guardianship services.

Social Identity Theft

Social identity theft is when someone uses your social media accounts to scrape your personal information and other information about you with the intent of using your identity fraudulently. The best way to avoid this type of identity theft is to never put too much personal information about you, your family, or your circumstances on your social media pages. That means don't put your middle or maiden names, your birth date, phone number, address, or anything else on them that could be used if your identity was stolen. Also, think about the types of security questions financial institutions use to verify your identity. This is exactly the type of information that should never be put on your social media pages. That includes the name(s) of your pets, schools you attended, your hobbies, where you were born or married, etc. If you do, and your identity is stolen, the thief could easily use these identifying factors to access any of your financial accounts that use two-factor authentication as a security measure to prove they are you.

Child Identity Theft

Child identity theft is becoming more and more prevalent. So, parents and guardians, you need to know this is happening and check your child's credit reports as often as you do your own and protect your children's identity just like you do yours as well.

An identity thief (this could also be an acquaintance or someone you know) will steal your child's social security number to apply for all kinds of credit, government benefits, loans, utilities, rentals, etc. Children are prime targets for this type of crime because criminals know it could be years until that child reaches an age where they will use their credit and, therefore, the crime could go undetected for many years before anyone notices.

There are a few warning signs to let you know that your child's identity is being misused. For example, if your child is turned down for government benefits because they are being paid to someone else, if you receive a notice from the IRS that your child didn't pay their income taxes, or, you start receiving bills or collection notices in your child's name. If any one of these things begins to happen, then your child's credit and personal information have probably been compromised.

If this happens, follow the same steps you would to resolve this issue if it were your identity that was stolen. (See Identity Theft Resolution Steps Below)

Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal information and uses your name, health insurance numbers, Medicare number, etc. to submit a claim, get a prescription, medical treatment, or the like. This could affect your credit. And, if their treatment is showing as yours, it could also, at some point, prevent you from being covered because it will reflect that you've reached your benefit limits.

The best way to prevent this type of identity theft is to collect your mail as soon after it's delivered as possible or get a P.O. box. Never sign up for “free” products or services that require you to provide your insurance plan information, and never give out your medical or insurance information over the phone or email unless you know the provider. Always keep your medical records in a safe place and shred all old health insurance forms and statements.

Detecting medical identity theft can be done by reading your medical and health insurance statements as soon as you receive them. Check the names of the providers, dates, services provided and if you see anything that doesn't match your specifics, contact the provider immediately. Also, if you receive a bill for medical services that aren't yours, calls or collection notices from debt collectors, see medical collection notes on your credit reports, correspondence from your insurance provider stating you've reached your benefit limits, or if you are denied insurance because your records reflect a condition you don't have, all of these things are warning signs that medical identity theft has occurred.

To resolve medical identity theft, you will handle it just like you would any other type of identity theft, except that you will contact the medical providers, insurance company, pharmacies, etc. instead of businesses. Then, instead of just having corrections made to your credit reports, you will also have to have corrections made to your medical records as well.

Online Identity Theft

Hacking a computer or mobile device is quickly becoming the most likely way your identity could be stolen. So the best way to avoid being a victim is to learn how online identity theft takes place and how to protect yourself. Unfortunately, this topic is so broad that it would take an entire novel to go over everything; therefore, we are going to explain the basics while encouraging you to learn everything you can about how online identity theft could happen, then take the proper steps to help avoid it.

Spyware is generally the root of all malicious online activity. Spyware (software that enables its user to secretly obtain information and computer activities from the victims hard drive) and other forms of malware (malicious software designed to damage or disable computers or computer systems) travel over the internet and infect your computer. This can happen when you:

  • Download infected software or files
  • Open infected email attachments
  • Click on infected pop-ups
  • Browse malicious websites

Some of these malicious programs are keystroke loggers so the hacker can see every keystroke you type which enables him/her to easily obtain your passwords, pin codes, security questions, and other information needed to access your accounts. That means changing your passwords, etc. from the same infected computer won't protect you or your information. If this happens to you, make sure you use an entirely different computer to change your sensitive information so a hacker can't continue to access your accounts.

Spyware runs in the background, so it's likely you won't notice it until it's too late. Therefore, you should consider installing the very best internet anti-virus/anti-spyware/anti-malware software you can find.

Once your information has been stolen, a hacker can use it to perform all kinds of identity theft activities or sell it on the dark web which is a marketplace where people buy stolen credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. to use for fraudulent activities.

The best way to avoid online identity theft, other than investing in the best anti-virus software you can find is to do the following:

  • Check your personal accounts often—daily if possible.
  • Avoid visiting untrustworthy websites. If there's any question about it, don't click on it.
  • Stop, think, and observe, any given email before you click on embedded links or attachments. And don't open any email from a sender you don't recognize. However, most hackers are very clever and the email will almost always look legitimate—so you have to be very careful!
  • Delete potential spam emails immediately.
  • Be very cautious and research all free software and file-sharing applications before you download them.
  • Always update your computer's operating system as soon as an update is available. And, immediately install patches when provided.
  • When using a public computer or unsecured Wi-Fi, don't input any personal information, credit card details, or any other sensitive information that could lead to your identity being stolen.
  • Discriminately install browser add-on programs.

There are several warning signs that indicate your computer has been hacked such as receiving a ransom message, fake anti-virus messages (this is a whole other can of worms so make sure you research this), you notice new unwanted browser toolbars, you keep getting redirected internet searches, you start receiving frequent random popups, you receive social media invitations from your friends that you didn't request or send. A few other warning signs include when suddenly your online password(s) stop working, you have unexpected software installs on your computer, your online account(s) are missing money, you begin receiving calls from businesses about the non-payment of shipped goods. Unfortunately, there are many, many more, so please spend some time getting informed immediately.

Once your computer has been compromised, it can be extremely difficult to fix it. If you have an exceptional anti-virus protection software it might be able to fix some things for you depending on the severity. Also, if you have backups, you could delete everything on your computer and reinstall the data prior to the date of the attack, if you know when it occurred. Otherwise, you might have to pay a professional to restore your computer for you and you might even have to get a new computer—it really all depends on the severity. Regardless, you have to be very careful when it comes to all things internet and the identity theft potential therein.

Criminal Identity Theft

Criminal identity theft is something not everyone is familiar with. Criminal identity theft is when someone commits a crime under another person's name. This usually happens when someone is arrested and uses your name and sometimes even your identification, which could be your stolen driver's license (or other information) that has been sold to someone that looks like you and is then used to portray themselves as you to the police or when engaging in other criminal activity. It could also be that someone has stolen your driver's license number and sold it so it could be used to produce a fake driver's license for someone else to use fraudulently.

When using your identity and/or driver's license to commit a crime and the perpetrator is caught, this will allow them, at least initially, to avoid going to court or not be denied for a bond to be released.

This type of identity theft is something you probably won't know about until you apply for a job or anything else where you are required to pass a background check and it comes back with criminal records on it. Or, during the police investigation, they show up at your door.

There's really no truly effective way to prevent this from happening other than keeping your driver's license and other personal information as secure as possible and never share that information with anyone else unless absolutely necessary. And, if your driver's license is ever stolen, make sure you report it to the police immediately.

Identity Theft Risks

Identity theft can be achieved using a wide variety of means such as:

  • Stolen Mail
  • Change of Address (thief changes your address with the post office)
  • Data Breach
  • Stolen Credit Card
  • Stolen Social Security Card or Number
  • Stolen Financial Information
  • Stolen Driver's License or Number
  • Theft of a Medical File
  • Electronic Pickpocket (remote scanner)
  • Theft by a Family Member or Acquaintance
  • ATM Skimmer
  • Internet Hacking
  • Email Phishing/Spoofing
  • Fake Technicians
  • Spam Attacks
  • Dark Web Marketplace
  • Malware
  • Wi-Fi Hacking
  • Stolen Mobile Phone

Once your personal information is stolen, it could be used in a number of ways. The thief could open fraudulent accounts in your name such as credit cards, retail accounts, mortgages, etc. They also frequently sell your personal information on the dark web, where it's sold again and again for as long as it's valid (not detected or flagged as stolen).

Once your credit cards and/or account numbers are stolen, they are generally used immediately to make numerous large and small purchases, again, for as long as they are valid. That's why time is of the essence once you've discovered your credit cards are missing or your personal information has been compromised. You will need to quickly take the appropriate steps to make sure the thieves are stopped in their tracks and to prevent any further damage from being done.

Thieves will oftentimes use your information to file taxes in your name so they can collect your refund before you do. Additionally, if they know your account passwords, PIN numbers, etc, they can also access your bank accounts and any other money accounts you might have, such as Paypal, etc. Therefore, if you ever discover your personal information has been stolen, you should immediately contact your financial institutions to let them know what has happened so they can freeze your accounts and whatever else they need to do to protect you.

HELPFUL TIP: It's always good to have more than one bank account in case, for whatever reason, your main bank account is ever compromised or frozen. Just remember to use different passwords and PIN numbers for each. Additionally, your bank account can be frozen by your bank if for any reason they believe something is fishy such as making too many savings account withdrawals in a short period of time or a particularly large withdrawal, etc. even if you're the one making the withdrawals.

Knowing how and where your personal information can be stolen is the best way to proactively attempt to keep it from happening in the first place.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

Initially, you might not know your personal information has been stolen and that you've been a victim of identity theft. However, there are some common warning signs that could indicate that identity theft has occurred.

Here are some of the most common warning signs of identity theft.

  • You are denied credit (if you know your credit is good).
  • You begin receiving debt collection calls for purchases that aren't yours.
  • Your credit card purchases are inexplicably denied.
  • You stop receiving your mail, or one or more of your bills.
  • You start receiving bills for purchases you didn't make.
  • There is a sudden drop in your credit score.
  • Your credit report shows inquiries from businesses you don't recognize.
  • Your Social Security statements show income that's not yours.
  • You are turned down for a job due to bad credit (if you have good credit).
  • You discover you are missing some checks.
  • You start receiving overdrawn notices and/or fees.
  • You receive a tax transcript in the mail that you didn't ask for.
  • You receive a phone call from your bank or credit card company about a possible fraudulent charge.
  • You start receiving health treatment solicitations for conditions you don't have.
  • You receive tax documents for employers you've never worked for.
  • Your electronically filed tax return is rejected.
  • You are denied a rental application due to your credit (if your credit is good).
  • You are inexplicably denied for a loan.
  • You receive two-factor authentication alerts (text/phone/email) for things you don't recognize.
  • You see bank withdrawals you didn't make.
  • You see small “test” charges on your credit card.
  • A medical provider sends you bills that aren't yours.
  • Your health provider rejects your claim because you have reached your benefit limits.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed under your name.
  • The IRS notifies you that you have income for an employer that's not yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts on your credit reports.
  • You are notified about a data breach at a company or place you do business or have an account.
  • You see a sudden and significant increase in direct mail ads and phone sales calls for expensive items such as cars and other big-ticket items.

Tips for Identity Theft Prevention

There are a number of things you can proactively do to help prevent yourself from becoming an identity theft victim.

  1. Don't carry your social security card with you in your purse or wallet and don't give out your social security number unless it's absolutely necessary.
  2. Always be mindful of your purse or wallet and never leave them lying around, in a shopping cart, or turn your back when they are sitting on a checkout counter.
  3. Make a concentrated effort to pay attention to your surroundings and what's happening around you. If you notice people displaying strange behavior such as following you or following too close to you, especially if they “accidentally” bump into you, they could be attempting to remotely steal your credit card information, steal your wallet, or your mobile phone. Or, if you notice the same “group” of people hovering around you, seeming as if they are signaling to each other, or are on the “lookout,” they could be a crime group who have deemed you as a potential target.
  4. Setup a password on your mobile phone. This will prevent the majority of thieves from accessing your personal information because they won't have your pin code to get into your phone.
  5. Use RFID protected wallets and purses. Or, you can use RFID protective sleeves to put your debit and credit cards in. Doing so will prevent thieves from remotely recording your credit card information.
  6. Cover your hand when entering your pin number on an ATM machine or any other card reader.
  7. Check your bank accounts and credit card accounts frequently—daily if possible.
  8. Never give out your personal information to anyone, even close friends, family, or acquaintances, unless you have to.
  9. Don't respond to unsolicited requests, whether that be a door-to-door salesperson or a direct mail solicitation without first verifying their validity.
  10. Don't respond to requests for your personal information by phone, mail, online, or otherwise without first verifying their validity.
  11. Put a credit freeze on all your credit reports. In some cases, you will have to pay to implement the freeze and to have the freeze removed if you apply for credit; however, this is a small price to pay for personal information protection.
  12. Pick up your mail as soon as it's delivered or as soon after as possible. Additionally, you should always put a hold on your mail if you are going to be away for more than a few days. Another option would be to get a post office box and have your mail sent there. That's the best way to prevent someone from stealing your mail.
  13. Pay attention to the billing cycles of your monthly bills. If you notice one is late or you don't receive it at all, contact the sender.
  14. Review your credit card and bank statements as soon as you receive them. Look for unauthorized charges or anything you don't recognize.
  15. Shred all mail with your name and address on it as soon as you're finished reading it. Especially credit card offers, statements, insurance, and medical correspondence, and even expired credit cards, etc.
  16. Store anything with your personal information in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or a locking file cabinet. Or, scan it and store it digitally using a cloud storage service with encryption.
  17. Never click on any link from an unknown source without first verifying its validity, regardless of how authentic it looks.
  18. Install firewalls, virus protection, malware protection, etc. on your home computer and all mobile devices.
  19. Get a copy of all three of your credit reports and review them every year. Contact the credit bureaus about anything you don't recognize or if you see accounts you know you didn't open.
  20. Purchase an identity theft protection service for you and your family.

Identity Theft Recovery Steps

Every passing moment is critical once you've learned someone has stolen your identity. Here are the steps you need to take immediately.

HELPFUL TIP: Keep a file for all documents, reports, notes, and anything else you have pertaining to your identity theft incident. Whether you decide to keep a digital or paper file, you might want to use something that has daily, weekly, monthly, and annual entry options because the identity theft recovery process could take a while and it's likely you're not going to remember what you did a month ago or a year ago. Also, be prepared to keep this information in a safe place for many years to come—even after everything seems to have been resolved.

Change All Passwords

Immediately change all your passwords, pins, logins—everything you use that requires you to log in with your personal information.

Place Fraud Alerts on Your Credit Files

Contact all three credit bureaus, explain your situation, then follow the steps required to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Once you contact one bureau, they are required to notify the other two. But you will want to confirm this was done. Also, each credit bureau will send you a letter confirming that they placed a fraud alert on your file.

Consider Freezing All Your Credit Reports

A credit freeze gives you more control over who sees your credit reports than the fraud alert process does. A credit freeze will prevent ANYONE other than yourself from accessing your credit report. A credit freeze request will remain in place (in most states) until you ask for it to be removed. However, freezing your credit is not something you should do if you frequently apply for credit or are planning a credit purchase in the near future because there is a fee for freezing and unfreezing each credit report unless you've recently been a victim of identity theft.

Once you've frozen your credit reports, you might have to pay to have the freeze from each credit report removed. And, it could take anywhere from 15 minutes (if done by phone) to three business days (if it's a written request) for a credit freeze to be removed. The charges for freezing and unfreezing your credit reports will vary from state to state.

NOTE: While freezing your credit reports will prevent anyone from pulling your existing credit, it won't stop someone from using your information to open new accounts or using your information fraudulently in other ways.

Review All Credit Reports

Request a copy of all three of your credit reports and look at them closely for anything unusual or anything you don't recognize. Let the credit bureau know what's yours and what's not so they can put a note on your file. You will also need this information for when you contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the police.

Contact the Company Where the Fraud Occurred

Contact the fraud department of the company where the fraud took place and explain to them that someone stole your identity. Then ask them to freeze or close your accounts.

Report the Incident to the FTC

Immediately report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can go to IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft and to use their online system to develop a customized recovery plan. Or, you can call them at 1-877-438-4338. This step is very important because it helps guarantee certain rights for persons who have experienced identity theft. After you've filed a report with the FTC, you will need to retain a copy of it for the police report.

Report the Incident to the Police

Once you have the FTC report, contact your local police department to report the incident. You will need a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report, a government-issued photo ID, proof of your current address, and any other proof you have of the identity theft, such as any fraudulent bills, IRS notices, etc. After you've filed a police report, you will need to retain a copy of it for your records and to complete some of the next steps you'll need to take.

Now that initial steps have been taken, it's time to begin the recovery process.

HELPFUL TIP: Before you begin this next process, you might want to type a generic script and checklist to use when you contact each business where an account was fraudulently opened in your name. This will keep you from having to recreate forms and correspondence for each one. And, it will help make sure you don't forget any of the steps or issues you need to address with each business.

Close All Fraudulent Accounts

Contact all businesses where new fraudulent accounts were opened in your name if you haven't done so already. Tell them that someone stole your identity, ask them to close your account, request a letter confirming that the fraudulent account isn't yours, that you are not liable for the debt, and that they have removed the fraudulent debt from your credit report. You will need to keep all letters and correspondence. Also, most of these businesses will ask you to send them a copy of your Identity Theft Report, fill out a dispute form, or whatever else they might require. Another important step is to make sure you follow-up with them if any follow-up steps are required to complete the process.

Reminder: Make sure you write down the date, time, and the person(s) you spoke with. Add this information to your notes and to the identity theft folder you initially put together to keep track of this process.

Dispute Fraudulent Charges and Have Them Removed

Look for the dispute resolution address for each of the businesses where a fraudulent account was opened in your name. Then contact the resolution department of each business to see if they will accept your Identity Theft Report as proof of the incident. If they don't, generally that means they have their own set of forms for you to fill out. Complete them and send them back using certified mail. Make sure you follow-up with them if needed and that you receive a confirmation letter stating that the fraudulent information has been removed from your account. Don't forget to save these letters and put them in your identity theft resolution file because you might need them later if any of the charges reappear on your credit reports again in the future.

Have Your Credit Reports Corrected

Now that you have all your fraudulent use resolution letters from the businesses where your information was used, you will need to write to all three credit bureaus to have corrections made to your credit reports, as well as explanations about what happened. For this, you will need a copy of your dispute resolution letters from the businesses involved, as well as the Identity Theft Report from the FTC. You will also need to provide proof of your identity, such as your driver's license or state issued ID. You will need to explain what happened, indicate which entries are the fraudulent accounts involved in the incident, then ask them to block that information from your credit report.

You can mail your letters to each of the following credit bureaus.

Experian
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000

Equifax
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069

When your identity is stolen, you have the legal right to have the fraudulent information removed from your credit reports. However, you will have to follow the proper steps in proving that identity theft occurred,  but once you do, the credit bureaus will block the information from your reports and the affected companies cannot attempt to collect that debt. Additionally, the credit bureaus cannot refuse your request to have the information blocked as long as you have the corresponding Identity Theft Report from the FTC.

You can still request the fraudulent information be blocked from your credit reports even if you don't have that report from the FTC; however, there is no guarantee the credit bureaus will honor your request.

Continue Monitoring Your Identity Information and Credit Reports

The best way to avoid becoming an identity theft victim again is to continue monitoring your personal information and all three credit reports on a regular basis. Obtain a copy of all three credit reports at least three to four times a year. All three credit bureaus will provide you with one free credit report a year. Any additional copies will generally cost you a small fee. You can call to get your free credit report from each of the credit bureaus below.

  • TransUnion – (800) 680-7289
  • Equifax – (800) 525-6285
  • Experian – (888) 397-3742

Or, you could get your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com.

You should also continue monitoring all your account and billing statements. Look for unfamiliar charges or anything that might seem suspicious.

How to Protect Yourself After a Data Breach

Once you've been notified by any given company that they have experienced a data breach, you will need to take immediate steps to protect yourself.

  1. Find out if your personal information was exposed as part of the breach.
  2. Check all three of your credit reports and look for any suspicious activity.
  3. Consider requesting a credit freeze be placed on your files. If you don't want to put a credit freeze on your files, at least consider putting a fraud alert on them. However, a credit freeze will prevent anyone but you from accessing your credit files.
  4. Aggressively monitor all your accounts, credit cards, bank statements, etc. The sooner you detect an issue the less likely it is that it will turn into a bigger problem.
  5. If it's tax time, file your tax returns as soon as you have the information you need to do so. Waiting could allow someone else to file and receive your refund before you do.
  6. Ask the company whose system was breached if they will provide you with free credit monitoring for at least a year. This will help you keep an eye on your credit files and alert you if any potential problems are detected.

How to Report Identity Theft

The first thing you need to do to report identity theft is to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

FTC Online – IdentityTheft.gov

When reporting your identity theft online, the FTC will send you an identity theft report, as well as a recovery plan. All you have to do is go to their website and create an account. You can then edit and update your recovery plan, track the progress, and they will also provide you with prefilled form letters you can use to send to creditors.

FTC by Phone – (877) 438-4338

If you contact the FTC and submit your report by phone and you don't also create an account on their website, you won't be able to access the identity theft report or recovery plan. However, the FTC will assist you in collecting the details of the incident, but again, you won't have access to your ID theft report or receive a recovery plan.

Contact Your Local Police Station

Another way to report identity theft is to report the incident to your local police department. This is especially important if you know who the identity thief is, if the thief used your name while being confronted by the police, or in the event any of the affected businesses ask you for a copy of the police report.

HELPFUL TIP: The best way to report your identity theft is online with the FTC even if that means you have to find someone to help you do so. Filing with the FTC by phone is also acceptable except you won't receive as much assistance as you could otherwise. Regardless, you will have more rights and it will be easier for you going forward with the recovery process if you have an FTC Identity Theft Report.

List of Identity Theft Protection Companies

The best way to prevent identity theft and avoid the pains associated with recovering your identity is to purchase identity theft protection. The following are the top identity theft protection companies on the market:

 

Compare Identity Theft Protection Companies

If you are close to making a decision on an identity theft protection service, but are stuck between a couple of different options, you can check out our identity theft protection comparisons.

Identity Theft Resources

In the event that you do not have an identity theft protection service and are concerned you may be a victim of identity theft, you can reference the following resources.