Protecting your credit following identity theft: A step-by-step plan of action

Written by
Geoff Williams
Terms apply; see the online credit card application for full terms and conditions of offers and rewards

Having your identity stolen can be a surreal experience, however, if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, there are steps you can take to help keep your financial record from being tarnished. 

First, start by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's website where you can file a report for fraud and identity theft, create a recovery plan, and determine your next steps. Depending on your case, your suggested FTC recovery plan may include some of the below, but as a general rule, the following are the steps you'll want to take if you fall victim of identity theft: 

Call your bank and credit card companies

As soon as you discover fraudulent activity under your name or your accounts, call your bank and credit card companies.  If you want to contain the damage, and if you think somebody could take out a loan in your name, remove money from your bank account or continue using your credit card, it's best to put a stop to that immediately. 

Credit cards are federally mandated to limit your liability in case of fraud or identity theft so credit card companies and banks are generally pretty good about catching fraudulent activity, but it's best to report suspicious activity as soon as you notice it to prevent any further damage from occurring. 

>>Learn more about how people steal credit card numbers

File a police report

This isn't always easy to do. Identity theft is one of those crimes lacking fingerprints and DNA. The police know that the criminal might live half a world away, and they have plenty on their agenda already.

But it's important to try and get something documented. Having a police report to show creditors later may help you make your case that it wasn't you who, for instance, bought a house in another country or another state.

Of course, local authorities may tell you that they can't take a report. If that is the case, then try going to the county or state police. If you're told that identity theft is not a crime under your state law, then ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report in lieu of a police report.

Assuming you are able to file your police report, you'll want to itemize all creditors affected and properly identify them by their name, your account number and amount involved.

Once the police report has been filed, be sure to obtain copies of the report, or at the very least get the file number.

It is okay if you don't have everything needed at the time you are filling out the report. You can follow up later with additional information. If you do update it, though, just be sure to obtain an copy.

If the police won't let you file a police report, don't be discouraged. Just move onto the next step.

Contact credit reporting agencies

To help ensure that your credit report isn't affected long term by your case of fraud or identity theft, you'll want to be sure to contact one of the major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Fortunately you only need to call one agency, which will notify the other two agencies for you.

Start by contacting one of these agencies (contact information below) and let them know that you'd like to activate a fraud alert. 

As for what happens next, or should happen next…

  • A credit report will be sent to you along with a credit score.
  • You will be opted out from creditors receiving your name for solicitation purposes for a period of five years.
  • Follow up the dispute with the credit-reporting agency.
  • Put your request in writing. Mail it "Return Receipt Requested and Certified," and keep the original copy for your records.

When corresponding with the credit agencies of your choosing, be sure to include the following:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Copy of Social Security Card
  • Copy of government-issued identification card
  • Date of birth
  • Copy of police report or file number
  • Notarized copy of the FTC ID theft affidavit
  • Name and account number for each account disputed
  • Copies of any relevant documentation involved with the ID theft case
  • A statement that the information is not relating to any transaction by you, the consumer

For extended fraud alerts the agency will need:

  • A copy of a telephone bill showing both your home address and the telephone number you want added to the credit report.
  • A request for a victim statement to be added to your credit file. The statement will say something like "Please verify identity before extending credit. Victim of ID Theft. Phone number is _______."

This will remain on your credit report for seven years or until you write back requesting it to be canceled. In addition, you are entitled to one free copy of a credit report, from each of the three major credit bureaus, every 12 months. That said, the pandemic has made it so that you can get it weekly. The bureaus keep changing the date of when the weekly credit reports will end. Currently, you can get it weekly until April 20, 2022, by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

>>Learn more about how to fix credit report errors

Credit reporting agency contact information

Experian

888-397-3742

PO Box 9532

Allen TX, 75013

www.experian.com

Equifax

800-525-6285

PO Box 740241

Atlanta GA, 30374-0241

www.equifax.com

TransUnion

800-680-7289

Fraud Victim Assistance Department

PO Box 6790

Fullerton CA, 92634-6790

www.transunion.com

Additional items of importance

Still feeling anxious? You've taken the most important steps, but you could do a couple more things to help protect your identity. In no particular order, you could:

Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can call them at (855) 411-2372, or you can write to them at:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
PO Box 27170
Washington, DC 20038

You could also visit the Consumer Financial Protection website which has a lot of good information about identity theft - and if a bank or credit card or credit bureau isn't helping you mop up an identity theft mess, this is a good resource. 

Contact creditors and collection agencies. You should definitely do this if your identity thief opened accounts in your name. Inform creditors immediately to close any accounts connected with the identity theft. (This is where having a police report, if you were able to get one, can really come in handy.)

And if you call a creditor or collection agency instead of emailing, you'll want to keep notes of the following:

  • Time of the call
  • Phone number called
  • Name of customer service representative who helped you
  • Outline of what you talked about with them and what follow ups you will need in connection to the call

By keeping those notes, you'll have a record if, for instance, a creditor doesn't close an account opened in your name. You'll want the facts of the call at your fingertips.

Fortunately, if you want to dispute a charge or charges on your credit report, the bureaus are obligated to act within 30 days - in some circumstances, they're allowed 45 days. If they can't determine within that time whether the charge is accurate or not, they have to drop it from the credit report. So if a thief has opened up an account in your name, either that will be discovered, and it'll be removed. Or it won't be discovered, but it should be removed, anyway.

All of this means that repairing the damage from identity theft may be a slog. Spending your time writing to credit reporting agencies is nobody's idea of fun. But if you keep at it, it should all work out.

Featured Partner Cards:

Disclaimer:

The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

top