Identity theft is a highly disruptive crime that can have a troubling financial impact on both individuals and businesses. Even with the best identity theft protection, criminals can still sometimes break through your defenses.
If you’re unfortunate enough to become a victim of identity theft, knowing where to turn is the first step towards getting back on track. In this article, we discuss how to report identity theft so you can return to normality as quickly as possible.
Step 1: Inform the relevant companies
In the wake of an identity theft attack, your first priority is to contact the companies that have unwittingly engaged with the criminal who’s used your name and details. This process also applies if your business has become the target of corporate identity theft.
Thankfully, most companies (including all reputable credit card companies) provide a specific telephone number for reporting fraud and identity theft, which means you’ll be able to explain everything to a qualified advisor.
You need to clearly state that your identity has been stolen and that you want the fraudulent accounts to be closed. You should also request the closure of any legitimate accounts that have been hacked into - overall, it’s safer to start a new account than to simply freeze the affected one.
Although it’s stressful and time-consuming, it’s important to report the incident to every company involved. Furthermore, if elements of your stolen identity include professional information, make sure you tell your employer straightaway.
Step 2: Call your bank
In many cases of identity theft, fraudulent activity appears on personal or business bank accounts. Even though most major banks are good at quickly spotting criminal movements on your behalf, they don’t catch everything all the time.
If need be, you should contact your bank’s dedicated fraud line to report the incident, and make sure that all affected accounts, cards, and checkbooks are canceled, as well as any new accounts and cards that a fraudster might have opened or ordered in your name.
Even if the identity theft doesn’t appear to involve your bank account(s), it’s still worth notifying the bank, as they can investigate anything that looks suspicious.
Step 3: Notify the postal service
This step is mainly relevant to anyone who suspects that their mail (particularly, regular correspondence from their credit card company/bank) has either been systematically intercepted and stolen, or redirected to another address without legitimate authorization.
If you haven’t received important mail for weeks or months, then it’s a good idea to report it to your postal service. They will take steps to stop any fraudulent mail redirection, plus make an investigation into the suspected mail theft.
Step 4: Contact the IRS
Tax-refund identity theft is a crime in which a thief electronically submits a fraudulent tax return in a victim’s name to gain their tax refund. Whether you’re self-employed, an employee, or a business owner, immediately report tax-refund identity theft to the revenue service in your region.
The Inland Revenue Service (IRS), for example, offers a variety of preventative and post-incident support for both individual and business filers. Notably, this includes removing all fraudulent tax returns from your record and notifying you of any further criminal activity.
Step 5: Alert your identity theft protection provider
If you use a good-quality identity theft protection suite from a leading provider like IdentityForce or Norton LifeLock, you’ll have access to comprehensive, practical support that aims to fully fix the problems caused by identity theft.
The best services don’t just offer advice: they provide specialists who thoroughly investigate the issues, and undertake a lot of the vital repair work on your behalf. This often includes contacting companies to close affected/fraudulent online accounts, requesting the cancelation/replacement of compromised credit cards, and placing fraud alerts on your credit file.
In the event of corporate identity theft, make your identity theft protection provider aware of the crime without delay—presuming, of course, that they haven’t contacted you first. If the theft has affected multiple accounts or clients, and involves other companies, the provider’s support team will likely spare you many tricky phone calls and lots of painstaking paperwork.
Step 6: Get in touch with a credit bureau
It’s important to contact either Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian, which are the three main credit bureaus, so you can get your credit back under control. If you’ve been affected by corporate identity theft, then Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet are your best options.
You should request that your credit file have a fraud alert placed on it. Once set up, this alert makes it difficult for anyone to successfully open an account in your name, as you’re immediately notified (for identity verification purposes) if an attempt is made. When you initiate a fraud alert with one credit bureau, the other two are quickly notified—so you don’t have to make three separate phone calls.
If you want even more protection, particularly if you’re a business owner with lots to lose, you can request a credit freeze. Essentially, this is a tight restriction that, unless you temporarily lift it, stops lenders from accessing your report to approve new accounts. Therefore, a credit freeze radically reduces the chances of any fraudulent activity occurring. To obtain one, you need to contact each of the three main credit bureaus individually.
Step 7: File a report with the FTC
Alongside contacting companies and credit bureaus, it’s important to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or your region’s equivalent.
Initially, you’ll need to fill out an online form so that an official identity theft report can be produced to document your situation. Once created, your identity theft report is a useful way of proving to companies that your identity has been stolen.
The FTC will also provide you with a bespoke recovery plan, which can be updated as needed, and includes letter templates, as well as pre-filled forms, to send to companies and credit bureaus.
Identity theft is deeply distressing, and might leave you with quite a lot of problems to sort out. Therefore, it’s important that you know who to tell and how to report identity theft, so you can successfully restore your accounts, finances, and credit score.
To begin with, you need to inform the relevant companies and make sure the affected/fraudulent accounts are closed. It’s also critical to contact your bank and at least one credit bureau, so you can stabilize both your bank account(s) and credit score.
By reporting the crime to the FTC, you’ll enable it to provide you with a lot of structured support to help you recover, so it’s important to let the organization know as quickly as possible. Finally, if you have one, it’s also worthwhile enlisting the customer support that comes with your identity theft protection suite, as it’s likely to provide all-round, labor-saving assistance.