What To Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Written By Mary Beth Eastman
Last updated December 11, 2020

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July 20, 2018

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

You hope that it will never happen to you, but the fact of the matter is that identity theft happens every day. During the 2017 data breach at Experian, hackers gained access to the private information of more than 145 million people. Since identity theft has become so common, it’s important to know the right way to respond when you become a target.

First, you want to make sure that you close access to your financial accounts. You can do this by contacting all of the financial institutions that you use, including the banks that manage your credit cards and debit cards. You may also want to contact PayPal or other online financial services that you use to make them aware of the situation.

Once you have blocked access to your accounts, you need to report any unauthorized charges that you find on past bank and credit card statements. There is a good chance that you can get your money back for unauthorized transactions on your credit card, especially if your bank offers fraud protection.

When you file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency will send you a recovery plan and documents that you can use to dispute fraudulent charges. Contacting the FTC also starts a paper trail that you can use as evidence that someone stole your identity.

Contact the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports. Fraud alerts are free and last 90 days. During this time, anyone who checks your credit history will learn that your account has been compromised. Companies, therefore, can take additional steps to verify your identity. Those extra steps can prevent criminals from opening more accounts in your name.

It can take months or even years to recover from identity theft. After you’ve gone through the inconvenience and stress of contacting so many financial institutions, you may want to protect yourself from future attempts by signing up for an identity theft protection service.

A company like LifeLock will review your accounts regularly to find questionable activity and report aberrations to your financial institutions.

You may also want to add a layer of security to your internet use by signing up for services like Net Nanny, Kaspersky Safe Kids or Norton Parental Control.

Identity theft can happen to anyone, so it makes sense to prepare yourself for the worst. Knowing how to respond to identity theft won’t make the problem disappear, but it will help you take the right steps towards protecting yourself.

About the Author

Mary Beth Eastman

Mary Beth Eastman serves as the content manager for Simple. Thrifty. Living, where she is dedicated to helping readers use money and credit wisely. Mary Beth believes that access to the right financial information paired with a growth mindset are essential tools for getting out of debt and building wealth. Mary Beth has a degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University and has focused her 20-year journalism career on putting readers front and center, carefully considering their concerns and presenting information that will help them in their everyday lives. She has won numerous statewide journalism awards. Her writing on personal finance as been featured on numerous websites in addition to Simple. Thrifty. Living, including Huffington Post and Lexington Law blog. Mary Beth resides in Pittsburgh, Pa., with her family and two rescue dogs.

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