How To Recover After Your Identity Is Stolen (2022 Guide)

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Gaetano DiNardi

Head of Content at Aura

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    Your Identity Was Stolen. Now What?

    Maybe you noticed strange charges on your credit card. Or, you got a call about a loan you didn’t take out or unemployment benefits you didn’t claim. 

    Or, like in my case, your phone was stolen and you were suddenly locked out of your email, banking, and other sensitive accounts

    Whatever caused you to realize that your identity has been stolen, you need to act fast.

    Cases of identity theft have more than doubled in the past two years with victims losing $5.9 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]. 

    So, what do you do when you realize a scammer has stolen your identity? 

    Here are the exact steps you should take as soon as you realize your identity has been stolen. 

    Follow These 15 Steps As Soon As Your Identity is Stolen

    1. Contact your identity theft insurance provider (if applicable)
    2. Call your bank and credit card issuer
    3. Contact any company where you know fraud has occurred
    4. Place a fraud alert with any of the three credit bureaus
    5. Consider freezing your credit for added security
    6. Request your free credit report
    7. File an official identity theft report with the FTC
    8. Contact your local law enforcement and file a claim
    9. Sign up for credit monitoring to minimize further damage
    10. Dispute fraudulent transactions and close accounts
    11. Scan the Dark Web for compromised accounts and passwords
    12. Update all your passwords and add 2FA (but not SMS)
    13. Scan your devices for malware and set up antivirus
    14. Replace lost or stolen government-issued IDs
    15. Protect yourself and your family from future frauds

    1. Contact your identity theft insurance provider (if applicable)

    The first thing you should do once you realize your identity has been stolen is call your identity theft insurance provider (if you have one). 

    Some employers offer identity theft protection as a benefit. Or, you might already be signed up for a service like Aura. 

    Why should this be your first call? 

    At Aura, our White Glove identity theft resolution teams will walk you through every necessary step to secure your identity and restore your credit. We’ll even provide you with the right documents and get on the phone with you and your bank or other fraud departments to help sort out the situation.

    Aura's White Glove fraud recovery teams
    [Source: Aura White Glove Fraud Resolution]

    Plus, every Aura customer is covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.

    Resolving identity theft can be confusing. If you have coverage, use it. 

    Related: Aura vs. LifeLock: Which identity theft protection service is right for you? <--

    2. Call your bank and credit card issuer

    If you don’t have identity theft insurance, the first call you should make is to your bank and credit card company. Ask to talk to their fraud department and tell them you’ve been the victim of identity theft. 

    They'll walk you through the next steps, such as canceling your accounts and getting you new credit and debit cards.

    You can also use this fraud victim's checklist to make sure you're taking the necessary steps to protect your credit score.

    Check for a phone number on the back of your credit card. If your credit card was stolen or lost, here’s how to contact most major credit card companies in the U.S.:

    • Visa: 1-800-847-2911
    • MasterCard: 1-800-627–8372 (1-800-MASTERCARD)
    • Chase: 1-800-432-3117
    • Capital One: 1-800-227-4825 (1-800-CAPITAL)
    • Citibank: 1-800-950-5114
    • Bank of America: 1-800-732-9194
    • Discover: 1-800-347-2683 (1-800-DISCOVER)
    • American Express: 1-800-528-4800

    The good news is that, if a criminal stole your credit card, you won’t be liable for much if any of their purchases. Federal Law limits your liability to $50 when you report unauthorized charges to your credit card company. Most major credit card companies also have a $0 liability policy. 

    As soon as you see the signs of fraud, contact your financial institutions. 

    3. Contact any company where you know a criminal used your identity

    Don’t wait to reach out to companies and lenders where a criminal used your identity.

    If an identity thief manages to open accounts at other companies, claim unemployment benefits, or commit loan fraud, call their fraud departments and explain that someone stole your identity. 

    Ask them to freeze the fraudulent account to stop further damage. Then, ask them to send you a letter that states:

    • The account isn’t yours and wasn’t opened by you. 
    • You’re not liable for purchases made on the account. 
    • That they’ve removed the fraudulent charges.
    • That the fraudulent account and charges have been removed from your credit report. 

    Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to dispute inaccurate information from your credit report. You can also ask for documents relating to the fraudulent account. This includes the application. These documents will help you as you dispute charges and file your identity theft report.

    There’s a good chance the company will request proof of identity, a police report, and an official FTC identity theft report.

    That’s fine. Tell them you’ll come back once you’ve taken the next few steps. 

    4. Place a fraud alert with any of the three credit bureaus

    Contact any of the three credit-reporting agencies and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. 

    A fraud alert adds an extra level of security by forcing companies to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. The alert will stay active for a year and can be renewed by you for up to seven years. An extended fraud alert can help protect you from repeat identity theft. 

    Here’s how to contact each credit bureau:

    Pro tip: You only need to contact one of the three agencies. By law, they have to contact the other two to inform them of the credit freeze.

    5. Consider freezing your credit for further security

    A credit freeze goes a step beyond and stops anyone from accessing your credit report. This means that a criminal can’t open a new line of credit in your name. 

    Unlike a fraud alert where you only have to contact one bureau, you’ll need to reach out to each of the three credit bureaus and place freezes with them.

    Unfortunately, this means that if you want to open a new line of credit — for a credit card, home loan, or car purchase — you’ll need to contact each credit bureau and have the freeze removed or temporarily lifted using the PIN or password they provided. 

    Remember to keep the passwords and PINs in a safe place like a password manager to avoid any trouble when unfreezing your credit.

    Placing a credit freeze is your choice (and free to do). But if your financial accounts have been compromised, it’s a good idea.

    Pro tip: Credit monitoring services are another great option for protecting your finances. Aura tracks your credit card, bank accounts, SSN, and credit report and alerts you of any suspicious activity. 

    6. Request a free copy of your credit report and look for other fraud

    Next, you’ll want to look through your credit report for fraudulent activity.

    When you set up a fraud alert, you’ll automatically get access to one free credit report from each agency. Otherwise, you can request a copy at AnnualCreditReport.com

    Scan your credit report for anything that looks suspicious of unfamiliar, including: 

    • Fraudulent accounts.
    • Loans you didn’t take out (mortgage, student loans, vehicle, etc.) 
    • Inaccurate personal information.
    • Hard credit inquiries you didn’t request.
    • Accounts that are in collections.

    Make note of all these as you’ll need to dispute each one to get them off your credit file. 

    7. File an official identity theft report with the FTC 

    Gather your information and file an official Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.

    The FTC's 3-step plan for identity theft victims
    [Source: IdentityTheft.gov]

    An FTC report is an essential part of recovering from identity theft. Based on your situation, they’ll provide a recovery plan and an official record you can use to prove to businesses that your identity was stolen. 

    Here’s what you’ll need before you submit your report: 

    • Your full legal name.
    • Date of birth.
    • Social Security number (SSN).
    • Driver’s license number.
    • Current address and how long you’ve lived there for.
    • Phone number. 
    • Email address.

    The FTC also has a database of forms and letter templates you can use to dispute fraudulent transactions and help clear your name. 

    8. File a police report with your local police department

    You also need to file a police report for identity theft in certain situations, such as:

    • You know the person who committed the crime. 
    • You have information that could aid a police investigation. 
    • Your identity was used during a crime or police interaction (i.e., criminal identity theft).
    • Your financial institution or insurance company requires a police report.

    Call the non-emergency number and ask for the fraud department. They’ll most likely ask for a copy of your FTC identity theft report, so make sure you have that ready. You’ll also need your government-issued photo ID, proof of address, and any specific evidence of identity theft. 

    9. Sign up for credit monitoring to minimize further damage

    Even with a fraud alert and credit freeze in place, a criminal could still continue to cause you financial harm. 

    Rather than scanning your bank statements and credit files, credit monitoring alerts you in near-real time of suspicious transactions. For example, if someone is trying to open a new credit card or bank account in your name. 

    Aura credit and fraud monitoring
    [Source: Aura Credit Monitoring]

    Credit monitoring is an essential part of your ongoing protection against identity theft. 

    10. Dispute fraudulent transactions and close accounts

    When criminals use your identity to take out loans or make purchases, it can cause serious damage to your credit score. Unfortunately, the process of repairing your credit after identity theft can be time-consuming. 

    Here are a few of the steps you’ll need to take:

    For incorrect information on your credit report: As a victim of identity theft, you have the right to remove incorrect information from your credit report. This includes unrecognized accounts, hard inquiries, or personal information. Write to each credit bureau using this FCRA-compliant letter template. This requires them to act within 30 days of receiving the letter. 

    For fraudulent checking accounts: Order a free copy of your ChexSystems report and look for any fraudulent accounts. You’ll then need to contact those financial institutions and ask them to close the accounts.

    If a criminal has taken out loans in your name: If you’re the victim of loan fraud, you’ll need to contact the affected institutions and inform them of the fraud. They’ll most likely need to see your FTC and police reports. 

    If someone is writing bad checks in your name: Contact your bank and ask them to initiate a stop payment and close the account. Ask them to also report the theft to their check verification system so that businesses don’t accept them. 

    If your fraudulent debt has been sent to collections: Use this FTC letter template to contact debt collectors who are coming after you. This will eventually remove the fraudulent debt from your credit report.

    11. Scan the Dark Web for compromised accounts and passwords

    Identity thieves can gain access to your online accounts, including your bank, social media, and even email. If you’re the victim of identity theft, your usernames and passwords have most likely been leaked as part of a data breach and are available on the Dark Web. 

    Use Aura’s Identity Guard Dark Web scanner to see which of your accounts have been compromised. 

    Aura Identity Guard Dark Web scanner

    The scanner will also check your risk of account hijacking, home title theft, credit theft, spam and robocalls, as well as data trading.

    12. Update all your passwords and add 2FA (but not SMS)

    Passwords are often your first – and only – line of defense against identity theft. 

    Even if your accounts aren’t available on the Dark Web, they could probably still use an update. 

    First, make sure all of your passwords are difficult enough that they can’t be easily hacked. Secure passwords are at least 8 characters long and include numbers, upper and lower case letters, and symbols. 

    How long it takes for a password to get cracked
    [Source: Hive Systems - How long does it take to hack a password?]

    To keep your passwords organized, you should also get a secure password manager. This is a simple tool that securely stores all your passwords so you can access them quickly and don’t have to worry that you might forget them.

    Next, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your accounts. This is an added security step that requires a one-time-use code along with your username and password. However, don’t use SMS for your 2FA codes. As I found out when my phone was stolen, SMS two-factor authentication codes can easily be compromised. 

    Instead, use an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Okta.

    Once you’ve updated your passwords, force any unrecognized devices to log-out. Many social networking sites, including Facebook (and Facebook Marketplace), Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn, let you see active account logins worldwide. If you don’t recognize a device, sign out of all open sessions. 

    You’ll have to sign back in later, but your account will be safe.

    13. Scan your devices for malware and set up antivirus protection

    Identity thieves will often trick you into downloading malware onto your devices. Malware is a type of cyber attack that allows hackers to steal your personal information, see everything on your devices, or even track your keystrokes as you enter passwords and usernames. 

    Use antivirus software to scan your devices for malware and isolate them so they can’t do harm. 

    Aura antivirus and malware protection
    [Source: Aura antivirus and malware protection]

    For example, Aura’s antivirus with VPN secures your devices and your Wi-Fi networks from hackers. This is especially important when you’re in public as public Wi-Fi is notoriously easy to hack

    Be cautious of all links you receive in emails and texts — even if they’re from someone claiming to be from a company or organization you trust. 

    14. Replace lost or stolen government-issued IDs

    If a lost or stolen wallet led to identity theft, you’ll need to replace your missing ID. 

    If your Social Security card was stolen, request a replacement card from the SSA. 

    If your driver's license was compromised, get a replacement at your local Department of Motor Vehicles. 

    If your passport was lost or stolen, contact the State Department or call 877-487-2778. 

    15. Protect you and your family from future identity theft

    Almost 30% of people who have their identities stolen are repeat victims. Just because you’ve recovered from identity theft, doesn’t mean you’re safe.  

    Aura's identity theft protection
    [Source: Aura’s identity theft and fraud monitoring]

    Aura’s identity theft protection keeps you and your family’s accounts, devices, and online lives safe and secure. 

    With Aura you get:

    • Financial fraud protection. We’ll monitor your credit and bank accounts in near-real time and alert you of fraud 4X faster than the competition. Plus, you can instantly lock your Experian credit file with one click.
    • Identity theft protection and online account security. We’ll tell you if an account has been compromised, monitor your SSN for fraud, and reduce the spam calls you receive.
    • Antivirus and Wi-Fi protection for all your devices. This includes a VPN with military-grade encryption and malware protection to protect you from hackers.
    • Family identity theft monitoring for up to 5 people including children and adults. 
    • $1,000,000 in coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft. If the worst happens, we’ll be there to walk you through securing your identity and getting back on your feet. 

    Related: The Top 10 LifeLock Competitors & Alternatives For 2022

    Follow These Extra Steps for Medical, Child, and Other ID Thefts

    Most identity thieves only want one thing: your money. But financial fraud isn’t the only type of fraud that can happen after identity theft.

    Depending on the type of identity theft you’ve suffered, you may need to take additional steps:

    What To Do If Someone Uses Your ID For Medical Identity Theft

    Medical identity theft is when a criminal uses your identity to get treatments, order prescription drugs, or fraudulently use your health insurance. If you’ve been the victim you medical identity fraud, you’ll need to take a few extra steps, including: 

    • Alert your health insurance provider. Explain the situation and ask what they need to remove any fraudulent benefits.
    • Request copies of your medical records. Contact individual doctors, clinics, labs, and hospitals that have your information. Ask for your records and insurance EOB statements. 
    • Report any errors. Send a written letter to each healthcare provider pointing out any fraudulent information. They must respond within 30 days. 

    What To Do If Someone Steals Your Child’s Identity

    Child identity theft is a growing problem. A 2021 study found that one in 50 children were the victims of identity theft in the past year. 

    Criminals target children for their clean credit scores and empty credit histories. Scammers will use a child’s Social Security number (SSN) to apply for loans, credit cards, and government benefits. Sometimes the "thief" is even a family member who opens a credit card in their child or another relative's name.

    If your child’s identity or SSN has been stolen, you’ll want to review and freeze their credit report. You should also consider setting up a security freeze and potentially signing up for child SSN monitoring.

    Aura's child and familiy identity theft protection
    [Source: Aura child identity theft protection]

    What To Do If Someone Commits Tax Fraud in Your Name

    Tax fraud occurs when someone uses your identity and SSN to file taxes in your name and steals the return. In 2021, the IRS reported a 91% increase in identity theft and tax refund fraud [*].

    If you’re the victim of tax identity theft, you’ll also need to:

    Related: Stolen Tax Refund Check? Here’s How To Get Your Money Back

    What To Do If You’re the Victim of Criminal Identity Theft

    Criminal identity theft is when a criminal uses your identity to avoid arrest or prevent the discovery of an active warrant in their real name. 

    If someone has committed crimes using your name, you’ll need to contact both your local law enforcement and the arresting agency. Your local agency may need to take your fingerprints to prove your innocence. 

    What To Do If Someone Is Using your Social Security Number (SSN)

    Your SSN can be used for so many types of fraud – from unemployment fraud to bank scams

    To check if someone is using your SSN without your permission, you should:

    • Check your Social Security Statement for suspicious activity at ssa.gov/myaccount.
    • Check to see if someone has taken out benefits in your name.
    • Sign up for SSN monitoring.

    How Was Your Identity Stolen In The First Place?

    Once you’ve secured your identity and disputed fraudulent transactions, your next question is most likely: how did a criminal get access to your identity?

    It used to be that identity theft only happened if someone went through your mail, shoulder surfed your credit card account numbers, or you lost your wallet with your driver’s license or even Social Security card inside. 

    But today, scammers have more ways than ever to get your personally identifiable information (PII). 

    They could send you phishing attacks through spam emails or trick you into downloading malware onto your devices. Many don’t even involve you at all! Hundreds of data breaches happen every month, with billions of pieces of PII leaked onto the Dark Web

    Your identity — and assets like your bank account, healthcare insurance, and even home title — could be at risk without you even knowing. 

    Identity thieves want their crimes to go unnoticed for as long as possible. The earlier you can identify their scams, the better chance you have of shutting them out before they can do too much damage. 

    If you think your identity is at risk, look for the common warning signs of identity theft, including:

    • Strange charges on your credit card or bank account. (Even tiny charges can be signs of carding — when criminals try to validate your stolen credit card numbers).
    • Missing or unexpected mail. Scammers can use a change-of-address scam to redirect your mail and steal your sensitive information.
    • You receive credit card statements that you never applied for or other types of bills containing your sensitive information.
    • Someone calls you or sends you a letter informing you that you have been approved or denied by a lender for a loan that you never applied for.
    • Calls from creditors or debt collectors about accounts and loans you didn’t open.
    • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) informs you that someone used your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
    • Suspicious login attempts on your accounts (or password reset emails you didn’t request). Or, you can’t sign into your accounts.

    Identity theft is almost always a multi-pronged attack. You want to know exactly how they’re targeting you before trying to shut them out. 

    If you’re still unsure if you’re being targeted, here’s how to know if your identity has been stolen.

    Related: How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft (11 Steps)

    The Bottom Line: Act Fast After Identity Theft

    Identity theft happens more than we’d like it to. If a criminal has targeted you, act fast. Contact every company and agency that’s been impacted, file a report, and start down the road to recovery. 

    For ultimate protection, sign up for Aura. We’ll monitor your banking and online accounts for you and alert you in near-real time of any suspicious activity. And if the worst happens, our experienced Identity Theft resolution team is here to help 24/7. Plus, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft. 

    Ready for ironclad identity theft protection? Try Aura 14-Days Free.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers