Home > Identity Theft and Scams > 5 Things to Do Immediately If Your Identity Is Stolen

Comments 2 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


“Help! I’ve been the victim of identity theft!” I can’t tell you how often I get those calls to my office. People rarely expect it to happen to them and when it does, they feel at a loss to know exactly what to do.

There are several things you should do if your identity is stolen but here are the very first five actions to take as soon as you discover that you are a victim:

1. Contact the creditors of the accounts that were compromised.

That could include loans, credit cards, utilities, bank accounts, etc. In some cases, you might be responsible for some of the charges incurred, but that is handled on a case-by-case basis from each service provider or lender. Worry about that later. At this point, you need to alert them to the fraudulent activity to help prevent any further misuse of your account.

2. Call the Police.

Identity theft is a crime and the police need to know about it. Unfortunately, thousands of cases go unreported every year because people don’t realize it has happened or because they don’t think the police can do anything about it. The truth is: The police may not always be able to do something about it immediately (i.e. if it occurred months ago and the clues are cold) but your report might help and, at the very least, having a police report can help you in the other steps of this list…

3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission.

“Call the FTC’s identity theft hotline at 877-438-4338 and file a complaint. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems itself, but your complaint may lead to law enforcement action”, says Michele Cacdac-Jones, senior director of communications and public relations at Equifax.

4. Get a Copy of Your Credit Reports.

Get your credit reports for free once per year from all three credit reporting bureaus (online is faster). You might also want to check your credit score to get an overarching view of how your credit has been affected (one resource for that is Credit.com’s Credit Report Card that allows you to check your score once a month for free). A small identity theft clue on your credit card statement might hint at larger identity theft problems on your credit report that you are not aware of. Check everything, but in particular check your credit report for address information that doesn’t belong to you and credit accounts that do not belong to you. While you are at it, place an initial 90-day fraud alert on your credit reporting. You can do this at any of the three credit reporting agencies and they will pass on the fraud alert to the other two credit reporting agencies. Fraud alerts are free and they offer an additional layer of protection by requiring new creditors to prove that you authorized the inquiry.

5. Keep Accurate Records of Everything.

Create a document that lists the dates and times of all of the actions you take, as well as the people you talk to, what information was discussed, and how long each action took. This record will help you to keep track of the wave of information that will now be going back and forth between you and several other people, plus it can be a helpful record if the case ever leads to a civil or criminal lawsuit. (Bonus tip from Michele Cacdac-Jones of Equifax: “Send all letters by certified mail and keep copies.”)

Additionally, there are other resources for victims of identity theft that are worth looking into.  Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of both Credit.com and Identity Theft 911 says: “Before you panic, make a call to your insurance agent, banking or credit union representative or human resources department to find out if you have access to a damage control program devised to help victims of identity theft. You may well be pleasantly surprised that you are already (or can easily be) enrolled in one. In many cases they are either free as a perk of the relationship, or you can join for a very reasonable fee.” If those services aren’t available to you, he says, still don’t panic, but definitely follow the five guidelines above.

These immediate actions will help to get your started on reviewing the situation and starting to sort things out. From this point, it will frankly take some effort to pinpoint the problem and work things out with lenders and the credit reporting agencies, but these first five actions are the initial first steps to help contain the damage once you discover your identity is stolen.

Image: iStockphoto

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.


Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team