In some instances, the aftermath of identity theft can be as simple as a few calls to the credit bureaus. In others, it can become a complicated and drawn-out process that can take years to resolve even if you follow all the rules for reporting the crime and contacting creditors. If you find yourself in this difficult situation, these practical do's and don'ts may help you navigate through it.
The costs of identity theft can include spending hundreds of dollars and hours of your time trying to clean up your credit history. Resources to help you may be available for free through your bank. However, engaging additional assistance beyond your bank can significantly add to the cost of identity theft recovery.
Do: Take steps immediately
- Arm yourself with the following documentation:
- The police report filed when you learned of the identity theft.
- Identity Theft - A Recovery Plan, the FTC’s guide for victims of identity theft, including to-do lists, forms, and sample letters.
- Copies of your credit report.
- Documentation from creditors, such as copies of the credit application filled out by the thief.
- File a report with the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). Also, be sure to place a fraud alert with each of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion®, Equifax®, and Experian®). While fraud alerts are designed to prompt lenders to contact you before issuing new credit in your name, be aware that it doesn’t always work, and sometimes new accounts can still be opened by criminals.
- Send copies of the police report to all your creditors to get ahead of misdirected collection efforts. If you still find yourself dealing with aggressive collection agencies that refuse to believe that the debt is not yours, contact your lender and advise them of this experience.
- Make sure to keep a log of all your efforts - write down the date and time, who you spoke to, and what you discussed.
- Do not pay any bill or debt that is a result of fraud.
- Do not cover any checks that were written or cashed fraudulently.
- Do not file for bankruptcy without consulting with a professional.
- Do not change your Social Security number (unless advised to do so by Social Security - a rare occurrence).
- Do not be intimidated into paying any debt that you did not incur.
Being proactive is critical to a cost-effective recovery. Feeling a variety of emotions is ok, but don't let it prevent you from taking action and putting safeguards in place to move forward. Consider seeking counseling or joining a local support group so you can talk to others who may be going through a similar circumstance. Use the resources available to you through your bank. Have confidence that recovering from identity theft is possible!