Identity Theft Action Plan

October 19, 2010

If you’re a victim of identity theft or think you might be here’s a checklist of actions to take to help contain any damage caused by the identity theft.

But before we get started let me suggest you devise a solid organizational plan for all of the paperwork and correspondence you are about to process. Print everything. Write everything down. Send letters to creditors and collection agencies rather than dealing with e-mails and phone calls.  Good records will help you sort through the financial mess you could be facing.

Here are some first steps to take if you’ve been hit with identity theft.  It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good start to dealing with the issue.

Alert the Company

If you find an unauthorized account opened in your name, contact the company that’s providing the credit immediately.  For example, if someone uses your credit card number to make purchases call the issuer up and report the problem.  They’ll take the steps necessary to stop the perpetrator from charging anything further to your card.

Freeze Your Credit

You’ve got to stop the identity thief from opening up additional credit lines in your name. Once your credit is frozen you can go and start to fight the accounts that are open in your name, and you’ll have a definitive list of which accounts to close. Without freezing your credit you can end up thinking you are done fixing the theft and then another fraudulent line of credit opens up.

You’ll need to contact each credit bureaus separately to freeze your credit. Freezing your credit is supposed to mean that lenders will no longer extend you, or anyone posing as you, a line of credit.  Unfortunately not all lenders heed the credit freeze but they’re supposed to so it’s a step you definitely want to take.

Of course the one downside is if you do actually need access to credit during this time then it will be more difficult for you to borrow money.  You have to unfreeze your credit report to be able to open up a new line of credit, but the inconvenience is probably worth the protection.

You will also want to establish fraud alerts that are valid for 90 days initially. You can then extend this fraud alert to 7 years once you’ve received information in the mail from the bureaus.

File a Police Report

If someone has used your credit card or opened accounts in your name then fraud has been committed. If your identity has been stolen it’s definitely a crime and you need to get a police report detailing the facts. The police may not be able to catch the criminal but it’s still very important that you file a report.

You’ll have to send this report to creditors, banks, etc. to provide proof that you didn’t open the accounts and a thief did.  For example, let’s say someone goes on a shopping spree with your credit card and you report it. The credit card company will send the case to their fraud department and an investigator will gather the evidence to validate that you really are a victim of a crime and not trying to commit fraud yourself.

Filing a police report can be an especially difficult task if the identity thief is someone you know and trust. It’s not uncommon for identity theft crimes to be committed by family members since they have access to a lot of the information needed to pose as you. It’s hard to point the finger at a family member and accuse them of identity theft, but if that’s what has happened then you should file the police report.

Contact Financial Institutions

Reach out to your financial institutions (banks, credit card companies, mortgage company, retirement account companies; all of them!) and ask them what steps you need to take to protect your account with them.

Then begin tackling the fraudulently opened accounts at the same types of firms. Again, have your police report at the ready. You’re going to have to provide documentation that your identity was stolen to them, and it can be a pain. This is costing them money, and they may not be inclined to believe you. Work in writing, and prepare for this to take a while.


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Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for, Discover Bank, ING Direct, and many others.

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