Will Identity Theft Haunt You for Life?
Identity theft is the crime of the century. Over the past three years, annual reports of identity theft and fraud have doubled to more than 5.7 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*].
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have already been the victim of identity theft (or the many millions more who will be targeted this year), you probably have one question: Just how bad is identity theft?
While the dangers of identity theft are well documented — financial fraud, damaged credit, ruined reputation, etc. — what’s less well-known is how long it takes to recover from identity theft.
If you’re a victim or at high-risk of identity theft, you want to know what you’re dealing with. In this guide, we’ll dive into how long it takes to recover from identity theft, what to do if your identity is stolen, and how to protect yourself in the future.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Identity Theft?
The wide-range of identity theft-related crimes makes it hard to put a clear timeframe on recovery.
However, on average, it can take over six months and 100–200 hours of your time to discover, resolve, and recover from the effects of identity theft [*].
But that’s just the average. How long it will take you to recover from identity theft depends on these factors:
1. What type of identity theft occurred?
Identity theft — or identity fraud — occurs when someone accesses and fraudulently uses your personal information (such as your Social Security number, credit card information, etc.). A criminal might apply for government benefits, open fraudulent accounts, steal your tax return, or even commit crimes — all in your name.
The good news is that the most basic types of identity theft can be resolved quickly. For example, if you notice a strange transaction on your credit card statement, it might take only a phone call to your bank to reverse the charges. But this is a best-case scenario.
The bad news is that the more common types of identity theft are complex and can take months to resolve.
The types of identity theft that take the longest to resolve include:
- Social Security identity theft: If a scammer steals your credit card numbers, you can change them. But the same can’t be said for your SSN. If a criminal is using your SSN to apply for benefits or claim your tax return from the IRS, it can take months to rectify.
- Medical identity theft: Healthcare information is high-value for scammers who use it to steal your benefits or get medical treatment in your name. If you’re a victim of medical identity theft, it could take months to sort through benefits statements and remove fraudulent information from your medical files.
- Account takeovers: If a hacker has access to your online accounts, it can take weeks to resolve. It's especially dangerous if they've hacked your email account and can access password reset requests.
- Identity cloning: With enough personal data, criminals can completely recreate your identity — from fake driver’s licenses and passports to new credit accounts in your name. Untangling this web of fraud can take months or longer.
- Synthetic identity theft: A “synthetic” identity is one that combines your information (such as your SSN) with other information to create a “new” identity. This type of identity theft is incredibly hard to detect and even harder to resolve.
- Criminal identity theft: Thieves can even use your identity during traffic violations or when they get arrested — leaving you with a blemish on your record. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to monitor all public records for signs your identity has been used during a crime.
- Child identity theft: More than 1.25 million children were the victims of identity theft in 2021 [*]. Unfortunately, most victims won’t discover the crime until they try to apply for student loans, credit cards, or vehicle loans.
2. How did the identity thief use your information?
Ultimately, the type of identity theft doesn’t matter as much as how much of your personal information has been stolen.
It’s impossible to know what an identity thief has access to. And even if you shut them out of your bank account now, it won’t stop them from using that information for other types of fraud and scams.
The more personal information that’s stolen, the longer it will take you to resolve the crime.
If a scammer accesses your Instagram account and locks you out, it’s an annoyance. If they find your SSN, birthday, passport, and credit card numbers on the Dark Web after a data breach, it’s a nightmare.
3. How quickly did you discover the fraud?
How soon you discover a case of identity theft can be the difference between a $200 and a $10,000+ loss. Some of the many ways you might find out that your identity has been stolen include:
- Seeing unusual login activity on your bank account, bank portals or mobile banking apps.
- Finding unexplainable charges on your bank statement.
- Discovering new accounts or credit inquiries you didn’t ask for.
- Receiving notifications from government agencies about benefits you didn’t claim or tax returns you didn’t submit.
- Getting calls from creditors or debt collectors about purchases you didn’t make.
- Your credit/debit card gets declined at a point of purchase.
- Fraud alert notifications from your credit monitoring service.
- Not being able to log into an online account.
The reality is that most Americans only realize they’ve become a victim when they’re notified by a government agency, law enforcement, or a financial institution [*]. But by then, the damage is already done.
4. How much time are you willing to spend resolving the crime?
Resolving identity theft can be a long road. And many people simply aren’t willing to spend 100+ hours securing their identity. Even worse 30% of identity theft victims are repeat victims [*]. Even spending months fixing identity theft doesn’t mean you’re completely safe in the future.
That’s why millions of Americans have signed up for identity theft protection services.
Aura is rated #1 for identity theft protection by Security.org and IdentityProtectionReview.com.
Aura constantly monitors your accounts and sensitive information (including your SSN) and alerts you to any signs of fraud. If the worst happens and your identity is compromised, you have 24/7 access to a team of fraud resolution specialists along with $1,000,000 in insurance for eligible losses due to identity theft.
📚 Related: Is Identity Theft Protection Really Worth It? →
What Happens if Your Identity Is Stolen?
- You’ll deal with direct financial losses. In 2021, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network reported $5.9 billion in identity theft and fraud losses — almost double the losses from the year before [*].
- Your credit score could be severely damaged. SSN theft, loan fraud, and other long-term identity number thefts can cause lasting damage to your credit score.
- You could lose your medical benefits. Misuse of medical benefits by fraudsters can cost victims access to medical benefits when they need them most.
- Your reputation could be ruined. If scammers access your email or social media accounts, they can post embarrassing content under your name or try to scam your friends, family, and colleagues.
- You’ll have to deal with mental and emotional stress. Victims of identity theft often feel a sense of being overwhelmed, helpless, and frustrated [*].
- You could lose your home. Deed and home title fraud are real issues. Criminals can steal your home or commit a reverse mortgage scam and steal your equity.
- There could be a warrant out for your arrest. In cases where victims are unable to prove identity theft, they risk being prosecuted or fined for fraud.
- Your personal information could be on the Dark Web forever. If your sensitive information was stolen in a data breach and posted to the Dark Web, it’s almost impossible to take it down. Find out what data of yours is available to criminals using a free Dark Web scanner.
How To Resolve and Recover From Identity Theft
- Contact your identity theft insurance provider (if applicable). If you have insurance — either through a company like Aura or your work’s benefits program — call them first. They’ll help you through each step of the recovery process.
- Call your bank, lenders, and credit card issuer. Let them know your identity has been stolen and ask them to freeze or close your accounts.
- Contact any impacted company. Request a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. Look for any signs of fraud and then contact impacted companies and ask them to close new accounts and reverse charges.
- Freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus. Contact the main credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and ask them to freeze your credit. You can also ask them to place an extended fraud alert on your account.
- File an identity theft report with the FTC. An FTC report is essential for disputing fraudulent charges. File online at IdentityTheft.gov or call the FTC’s phone number, 1–877-438-4338.
- File a police report (if necessary). File a local police report for identity theft if you know the culprit, are the victim of criminal identity theft, or a creditor requires it. Don’t call 9-1-1. Instead, call your local police department and ask for the fraud department.
- Dispute fraudulent charges with your lenders and incorrect information on your credit report. Remove fraudulent new accounts and hard inquiries that could damage your credit score. Most companies and lenders will require an FTC and police report to remove charges.
- Stop debt collectors from contacting you. If a criminal took out loans in your name, you’ll need to contact any debt collectors and get them to remove your debts from their files. The FTC has a good template you can use for contacting debt agencies on their website.
How Much Does It Cost To Recover From Identity Theft?
It’s hard to quantify the cost of recovering from identity theft. While many of the resources are free to use (for example, an FTC report, freezing your credit, filling a police report), there are hidden costs associated with recovering from identity theft you may not think about.
Here’s what you will have to pay for:
- Your time. Even if you make minimum wage, the simplest forms of identity theft can cost $100+ to resolve. More advanced forms could cost you upwards of $1450 in lost working hours.
- Some fraudulent charges. Banks and lenders typically have good fraud protection services. But they don’t cover everything. For example, if you take more than two days to report fraudulent charges or wait too long to report strange bank transactions, you could be liable for the full amount stolen.
- Damaged credit score. It takes time to repair your credit after identity theft. During that time, your damaged credit score means you’ll pay more for car insurance and might even be denied loans, credit cards, or mortgages.
It’s safe to say that identity theft recovery will cost you thousands in direct and indirect losses. But even worse is the emotional toll of trying to deal with your recovery plan on your own.
Instead, let the professionals help.
For $15/month or less, Aura will proactively help you prevent identity theft and help you deal with the headache of identity theft recovery with trained fraud resolution specialists and generous insurance.
How To Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft in the Future
The worst thing about identity theft is that there’s no way to 100% guarantee you’ll never be a victim. Even after you’ve repaired your credit and secured your personal information, you could be targeted again.
To keep your identity (and money!) safe from scammers. Follow these tips for protecting yourself against identity theft:
- Freeze your credit. A credit freeze stops anyone from opening new accounts in your name. You should also request a free copy of your credit report to look for any signs of financial fraud.
- Keep a close eye on your bank statements. Look for any strange or unexpected charges — even for small amounts. Better yet, use a credit monitoring service like Aura to monitor your accounts for you.
- Stay safe when browsing and shopping online. Identity theft has exploded in the digital age. Make sure you know the signs of a phishing scam and don’t enter your credit card information on any site you’re not 100% certain is safe. For added protection, Aura’s antivirus can warn you of any potential phishing sites that are trying to steal your personal information.
- Use strong passwords, a password manager, and 2FA. The average American has more than 100 online accounts [*]. Each one is a potential vulnerability. Make sure you’re using strong and unique passwords for each and a password manager to keep track of them all. And whenever possible, enable 2FA on your accounts.
- Keep your sensitive information secret. Don’t share debit card PINs, SSNs, or other sensitive information in public or on forms. Collect your mail daily and shred documents with sensitive information. The less people that know your personal information, the safer you’ll be.
- Learn the signs of an online scammer. Phishing and online scams follow the same patterns. Learn how to tell if someone is scamming you online and protect your devices from malware with antivirus software.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura monitors your credit, online accounts, SSN, and more for signs of identity theft. You also get powerful antivirus and VPN to protect your devices and Wi-Fi networks against hackers and malware. And if the worst should happen, you’re backed by 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists and $1,000,000 in insurance for eligible costs related to identity theft.
The Bottom Line: Identity Theft Prevention Is the Better Option
No one is safe from identity theft. Along with millions of American citizens, celebrities like Tiger Woods [*] and Kim Kardashian [*] have had their identities stolen and used to make thousands in fraudulent purchases.
But that doesn’t mean you should just throw up your hands and deal with the consequences.
Instead, protect your sensitive information, be on the lookout for warning signs of fraud, and consider an identity theft protection service.