Reporting Identity Theft
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Identity theft is a crime that involves the illegal access and use of an individual’s personal and/or financial information. Identity theft can result in financial loss and seriously damage a victim’s credit history, requiring substantial effort to repair. Identity Theft can be tax-related, child identity theft or medical identity theft. Typically identity theft involves stolen credit cards or unauthorized charges on your credit card.
If your credit card number was stolen or used fraudulently, you should:
- Contact the relevant banks or credit card companies to dispute fraudulent charges, and
- Carefully read account statements regularly to look for fraudulent charges.
If you spot unusual activity in any of your accounts or are a victim of identity theft unrelated to your credit card, you will need to take the following steps.
- Place a fraud alert. You will need to place a fraud alert with one of the three credit reporting companies to be notified of any new requests for credit.
- Contact one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion).
- Tell the company you are a victim of identity theft and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report. (This initial fraud alert will last for 90 days.)
- Ask the company to report this request to the other two credit reporting companies.
- Order your free credit report. By creating the fraud alert, you are entitled to one free copy from each credit reporting company within 12 months of placing the alert, regardless of when you requested your last report.
- Create an Identity Theft File. Collect all relevant documentation concerning the theft in one file that’s kept in a secure location. The file should include:
- a timeline of events, which may span many years;
- the police report, if any;
- the identity theft affidavit (See Step 4);
- your most recent credit report from all three credit reporting companies;
- your Internal Revenue Service identity theft affidavit (See Step 8);
- any evidence of the identity theft, including any information about the perpetrator;
- all written or email communication with creditors, banks, financial institutions, or credit reporting companies; and
- logs of any phone conversations, with dates, names and phone numbers of any representatives with whom you spoke, and notes on what information they gave you.
- Know Your Rights. You have rights imparted by federal and in some cases, state law. Learn about your rights to better protect yourself.
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. To file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), contact the FTC's Complaint Assistant.
After completing the complaint process, print the identity theft affidavit created by the completion of the report. This affidavit will be used by local law enforcement to create a police report (See Step 5). This step, while important, will not initiate a criminal investigation of your case; the FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints.
- Report the Fraud to Law Enforcement. After receiving an identity theft affidavit from the FTC, you may ask the local police department to create a police report documenting the identity theft allegation. If the local police will not create the report, seek out other local law enforcement or contact the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You will need to bring:
- the identity theft affidavit from the FTC's Complaint Assistant,
- government identification,
- proof of address, and
- any other proof of the identity theft.
- Consider placing an extended fraud alert and/or credit freeze. Once the identity theft affidavit and police report are obtained, you may wish to request an extended fraud alert with the three credit reporting companies. This alert will require companies issuing credit in your name to verify that you are actually attempting to open a line of credit.
- Contact all three credit reporting companies separately.
- Use the identity theft report (the combination of the police report and identity theft affidavit) to create an extended fraud alert:
- The extended fraud alert is free.
- The extended fraud alert is good for seven years.
- The extended fraud alert entitles you to two free credit reports from all three of the credit reporting companies within 12 months of placing the extended alert.
- If permitted in your state, consider placing a credit freeze on your credit report. A credit freeze prevents companies from checking someone’s credit, making it more difficult for fraudsters to use your identity to obtain credit. A credit freeze will also affect your own ability to access credit (including legitimate lender and employer inquiries), so carefully consider if this option is right for you.
- Order three free credit reports. Once an extended fraud alert is created, you are entitled to three free credit reports from each of the credit reporting companies.
To obtain your free credit reports:
- call all three credit reporting companies, inform them of the fraud alert, and request a free copy of your credit report; and
- ask each company to show only the last four digits of your Social Security number on the report.
- Contact the Internal Revenue Service. Even if you do not think the identity theft is related to your taxes, it is possible that your Social Security number could be used to file fraudulent tax returns. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit provides assistance in cases involving identity theft. You may need to submit an IRS Identity Theft Affadavit (Form 14039).
- Contact the Social Security Administration. If you suspect your Social Security number has been misused, report the misuse to the Social Security Administration and find out if a new Social Security number is necessary.
Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline
(866) 501-2101 (TTY)
- Dispute Fraudulent Activity. If any of the perpetrator’s fraudulent efforts were successful, you also will need to take additional steps if you’ve been affected by Check Fraud/Bank Account Identity Theft, Fraudulent Loan or Other Debt Identity Theft, or Medical Identity Theft.
- Consider Civil Remedies. Civil attorneys who work for victims of financial fraud can analyze the particular facts and circumstances of your case and counsel you on the available civil remedies. The National Crime Victim Bar Association can provide referrals to attorneys who litigate on behalf of victims of crime and who offer initial consultations at no cost or obligation.
- Follow up. Review the steps you’ve taken and follow up after 30 days with any law enforcement agencies or organizations that serve victims.
For details about how to recover from other types of financial fraud, see our full list of Victim Recovery Checklists.