What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Identity Theft

Recently, I went to the state license office. When I was called up to the worker’s desk, I was asked to say my address, along with my name, age, and social security number. They wanted me to say ALL OF THIS out loud in a crowded room. If someone was paying attention, they could have taken…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 26, 2023

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What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Identity Theft (1)

Recently, I went to the state license office. When I was called up to the worker’s desk, I was asked to say my address, along with my name, age, and social security number. They wanted me to say ALL OF THIS out loud in a crowded room.

If someone was paying attention, they could have taken down my information and done serious damage. I asked if I could write my information and show it to him instead, and while they were not too happy with that, he agreed (he gave me the paper back, so I was able to shred it). The person that my husband had didn’t ask him to say his information out loud and he was given a form to fill, so I’m not sure why I wasn’t given that as my first choice as well.

If I wasn’t careful, this could have led to me becoming a victim of identity theft. Little mistakes or even something that is no fault of your own may lead to you becoming a victim of identity theft as well.

Sadly, identity theft impacts over 16 million people each year and that number is expected to keep growing.

I’ve been a victim of identity theft and I know it’s a huge headache. Even when you are extremely safe with your information, identity theft can still happen.

If you do find yourself to be a victim of identity theft, there are actions you can take to repair the situation as best as you can. This way you can get your credit score back to normal (or as close as possible), eliminate fraudulent expenses, get your life back, and more. You will want to do this as soon as possible though, so keep that in mind!

 

Record all actions you take.

Before we go into the main steps that you need to take in order to prevent more identity theft from occurring, you should always keep a record of everything you do.

Keeping a good record is important because you may need to show someone later (such as a credit company or a lawyer) the steps that you took to clear your name. Plus, something may get lost!

According to the FTC, you will want to:

  • Log the date, names and telephone numbers of each person you contact about your identity theft;
  • Send all letters about the situation via certified mail and receive a return receipt;
  • Keep all originals of any documentation that is needed.

 

Pull your credit report.

If you believe that your identity may have been stolen and that you may be a victim of identity theft, it’s a wise idea to check your credit report to see if any other errors or theft are listed.

You will have to continue to check your credit report on a regular basis (I would check it a few times for a full year after you noticed any identity theft, then at least once a year after that), to make sure that your identity is safe.

Related: Phone Scams: The Best Tips To Avoid Becoming A Victim

 

Contact the company where your identity was stolen.

In many cases, you may be able to directly contact the company where your identity was stolen. This way you can get the situation resolved, close your account, or whatever needs to be done to stop the identity theft.

If it was something such as your credit card information was stolen, you will be given a new credit card number to prevent any other theft.

The maximum you can be charged under the Fair Credit Billing Act for unauthorized charges is $50, but many companies don’t charge anything.

For bank charges under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, you may be charged up to $50 as long as you report the fraud within two days. If you wait between 3 to 60 days, then you may be charged up to $500. After 60 days you may have to pay EVERYTHING that is charged under your name.

They key here is to report any fraudulent activity immediately.

Related article: Do You Have A Financial Emergency List?

 

Contact credit reporting agencies.

The next step you will want to take is to contact the credit reporting agencies so that they can be aware that your identity has been stolen. Ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your credit file so that you can be alerted if anyone tries to do anything with your identity.

The three credit reporting agencies are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Fraud alerts last for 90 days and you can renew after that.

 

Place a freeze on your credit report.

If you would like to, an extra step you may be able to take is to ask the credit reporting agencies if a freeze can be placed on your credit file. This will then prevent anyone from using your credit report or credit score without direct permission from you. If anyone does try to use your credit file, the application will be immediately declined.

Keep in mind that if you do this, you will have to contact the credit reporting agencies before you need your credit so that they can lift the freeze in time.

 

Dispute incorrect information on your credit report.

If there is something wrong on your credit report, you should always dispute it.

You may have to send a letter to the credit agency, to the fraud department of where the identity theft took place, and provide proof of the theft, but it is well worth it to clear your name.

Whatever you do send in, keep a record and all original documentation just in case you need the information in the future.

 

File the identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission.

Another step you should take when it comes to identity theft is to file a report with the FTC. This way it is on file and they may be able to provide even more up-to-date tips on what to do next.

 

Report the identity theft to the police.

While the police department may not be able to do much usually when it comes to an identity theft case, having it reported is a small step that may go a long way.

You never know if a police officer may come across someone who has all of your information on them (I have actually heard of this happening and the person was arrested because they had a book full of stolen identity information). Also, you will need a police report filed if you plan on reporting identity theft to the FTC.

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? What happened?

 


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. That’s good to know about the 60 days and later thing! What a PIA…

    1. Yeah, I didn’t realize that some things weren’t covered whatsoever.

      1. Sarah

        I’ve recently become a victim of identity theft. Here are several more steps to take.
        1) Put your mail on hold. Identity thieves shop online and have it delivered to your address. Often THE THIEVES put your mail on hold via internet. This way they know exactly when to pick up the packages sent to your stolen identity at your address. They also do not want you receiving any alerts, declines, bills, credit cards, etc that THEY opened.
        a) Go to the post office in person with a utility bill and identification. You’ll need it for this step. b)Speak to the Supervisor. Explain that you’re an ID theft victim. Ask to put the mail on hold for 30 days and have it flagged “ID required for pick up”. This is why you’ll need a utility bill and ID.
        c) List the only people allowed to pick up your mail. A 30 day hold requires a supervisor’s authorization.
        d) File a mail theft report. Provide police case number (mentioned above in your blog).
        e) Sign up for alerts via email and text for all packages.

        2) Contact the major courier services, ie FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. Not only will thieves have things sent to your home and pick them up when you’re not home; they’ll also reroute packages from your address to change delivery locations.
        a)Ask for the Fraud dept. Explain the situation.
        b) Ask them to scrub their system for your name and address and to freeze all items in transit. Don’t take, “no.”, “that’s not possible”, etc for an answer. Use the chain of command until someone will help. Make sure to let them know that you’ve filed a police and FTC report. They fall within many of the same guidelines. (If you already have legitimate deliveries scheduled, request all packages be sent to an authorized pickup site. Make sure to have them note, “ID required for pick up”.)
        c) provide the police case number (mentioned in your blog)

        3) Complete a US Customs report. Many identity thieves order from foreign countries to make transactions almost impossible to track.
        a) Provide the police case number.

        4) Rent a PO BOX or mailbox at a parcel and packaging facility. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS!
        a) Notify all your financial institutions, Medical, Dental, children’s schools, utilities, etc of the new mailing address. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS! Anyone using your name and address for any transactions are likely involved in the ID theft. This will help catch them as they wait to pick up their packages. They don’t want to be noticed or seen. But they want the stuff they’re buying with your identity.

        5)Put a code word on all accounts including utilities.

        6) Talk to your neighbors. Share the information in case they, too, have been victims or are willing to keep an eye out for anyone around your home or mailbox when you’re not home.

        7) Be patient. Check post office as often as possible for fraudulent bills, packages, etc. Take action mentioned in the blog above.
        Citibank has a great program that gets you on the phone directly with the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus put a code word and your direct phone number to be called for ANY credit inquiry.
        And they do call..

        I’ve been able to narrow down the car of the thieves. Just didn’t get the license plate number.

        Good luck!

  2. Mark@barebudgetguy

    I feel like I’m spouting off my SSN all the time. At work, on the phone, the computer. And I lost a credit card the other day. It’s only got to be a matter of when for me…

  3. Luke Fitzgerald @ FinanciallyFitz

    Knock on wood, but I haven’t had to deal with this. I am bad about pulling my credit report! I need to get on this. I’v never had a credit card, but I still need to be more diligent in pulling my report. This reminds me I need to put a freeze on it! Thanks for the reminder. Small things that could make a big difference.

    1. I hope you never have to deal with it. It’s a huge headache!

  4. This is great advice! One way to help yourself avoid identity theft is to place the credit freeze beforehand. I’ve found that helps me because I don’t use credit cards at all so it’s an added layer of protection.

  5. This is one situation I don’t want to be a victim of. It’s really hard to get back all those information taken from you and manage to cancel all your accounts. I just hope that there’s an app to keep us updated of all those accounts that we are affiliated with.

  6. Amy @ DebtGal

    Wow – I cannot believe you were asked to share all of your personal info in a crowded room. How 1985! Thank goodness you thought on your feet and came up with a better idea.

    I have not had my identity stolen, thankfully, as it sounds like a real hassle to deal with.

    1. Yeah, it was very odd. There were literally people bumping into me and he just wanted me to say it right in front of everyone?!

  7. Good tips, Michelle! I hate it when people ask you to say your SSN in a crowded room! That has happened to me before.

  8. That’s crazy that they expected you to say your whole social security number out loud. Identity theft is scary but it’s a situation that we all need to be aware of so we can help prevent it/protect ourselves.

    1. Yeah, he was actually angry that I asked to write it down too!

  9. Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances

    So scary! My bank always asks for my social security number if I forget my account number. I don’t know why they can’t just let me slide my license across the counter!

    Coming from the bank side of this, other people’s identity getting stolen is a nightmare. While I was the face the customer dealt with, there was actually a whole group of people in the back office who didn’t interact with customers, and constantly gave us conflicting information about how we needed to handle these sorts of issues. I felt bad for the customers who were naturally angry and needed the process to be as smooth as possible.

    1. Yes, I have had the bank ask me for that before and I’m not a fan of it either.

  10. Virginia

    I was once in an airport waiting area and the woman across the aisle from me gave her entire credit card information to someone over the phone, including spelling of name, and security code on the back. To make matters worse, I was journaling at the time and could have easily written down everything. I was tempted to do it just to show her I could and show her what she was risking! But I decided it would have been too creepy.

  11. Kayla @ The Jenny Pincher

    I wouldn’t have wanted to say my info out loud either! I’ve never had my ID stolen, but I do check my credit report and such on a regular basis just in case.

    1. I’m glad I didn’t! I’m sure others do it all the time there though.

  12. Heather @ Simply Save

    You were right to be concerned. Identity theft is a real pain to resolve! I experienced it when someone filed federal taxes with my data and it took me over a year to get my tax return back!

  13. Ali @ Anything You Want

    Thanks for sharing! I didn’t know you could put a freeze on your credit report – such a helpful tip!

  14. Nikki

    Isn’t it odd how perturbed people get when you politely request to write down sensitive information instead of saying it aloud and sharing with everyone in the room. Once in a while I’ll get someone who is peppy and supportive but usually it’s harrumphs and eye rolls.

    Also odd? How many people freely share their SSNs with whomever and however. Once a year for work I have to collect a handful of SSNs–from people who have never met me and live all over the country. I’m always telling them to call me on my landline from a landline or offering to put them directly in touch with our payroll person to cut me out of the equation entirely. Once in a while someone will at least call me (but probably from a cell phone) but most of them will just shoot an unencrypted email straight back with their number and many with the “sent from my smartphone” signature.

  15. Tonia

    My identity was stolen and it was a miserable experience. I ended up hiring an attorney and spending several years getting everything cleared up. Even after winning in court, it took the credit bureaus three years to remove the items from my credit report. I would never wish this on anyone.

    1. Oh no! That sounds horrible.

  16. Michelle that’s really crazy that they would want you to just “Speak it out”… one quick tap on a recording app from someones phone and they could’ve made off with 10-20 identities easy.

    ID Theft has been hot on my mind – With the latest OPM federal government breach of about 21 million federal employees and contractors information, I really feel like our information is never truly secure. (yes, the OPM breach is going to effect me *contractor).

    Adding to the “fraud alert” with the three credit reporting agencies – if you show them an active Police Report they will give you FREE fraud alerts for 7 years!

    I’m already in the process of having this done – and placed temporary freezes for the time being (paid).

    Fighting ID theft is a pain in the royal ASS but the simple steps you described are pretty much guaranteed to catch 99% of the threats before they happen.

    -Rich

    1. That’s great to know about the 7 year fraud alert!

  17. Stockbeard

    Identity theft does not happen with people eavesdropping on you at the state license office… it happens online where hackers can get millions of entries at once.

    The steps you give are good, but your fear was IMO totally unjustified. Your own website doesn’t have https (neither does mine) so I feel you might not be looking at the right place where your SSN, etc… could get stolen

    1. I have actually heard of several true stories where people’s identity have been stolen in the way I described above… I actually had my SSN and identity stolen when I was just 13 and I have been led to believe that it was from jotting down my information when I was younger.

  18. Ray @ Squirrelers

    Good tips, and I have to say that you made a wise move by ignoring their request to share the SS# along with the other identifying information out loud. Smart to think on your feet like that and comply with their request on your terms. That’s a good approach to take in many other situations too!

  19. I actually did use Lifelock for a few years. Now, I just monitor everything myself though.

  20. Kirsten

    I recently had to replace my social security card (scary, since I lost it. Who knows who has it). I brought my birth certificate and marriage certificate and prepared to really be asked tons of questions and have to show proof of everything. They asked for nothing except my driver’s license. Well, my address on there is wrong, so I panicked, but the guy told me “we will actually send your new card anywhere”. Um….

  21. Allison @ Frugal on the Prairie

    Who cares if the worker wasn’t happy with it? Good for you on thinking ahead, Michelle! My friend had her SSN stolen almost 30 years ago and it still affects her till this day. I don’t know the lingo for the documentation but anytime her credit is pulled up when applying for a loan or credit card she has to also provide proof that she was a victim of identity theft.

    1. Yes, the person made me feel very bad for asking and I feel like some even looked at me like I was stupid!

  22. Jessica

    This is very good information to know. I had my credit card information stolen from a medical billing company a few years ago. There were some weird charges on my account, which were reversed by my credit card company. I did monitor my credit and thankfully nothing more came of the incident.

  23. Dane Hinson

    In an increasingly digital world, identity theft will only become more and more common. I’ve made a point to check our credit scores annually and evaluate the report. It’s a scary thing, but it’s best to be proactive in today’s day and age.

  24. Wow, I can’t think of any time I’ve been asked to give an SSN out loud in public. That’s pretty awful.

    We’ve been lucky to avoid identity theft. The closest we came is that I noticed a $100ish Walmart purchase from our debit card, and we hadn’t bought anything. We had shopped at Walmart a couple of weeks before that, so maybe that’s how it was managed. All I know is that the process was so slipshod that the person was able to pick it up in store without any questions. (Though I can’t really blame Walmart employees for not being exactly gung-ho in the execution of their duties.)

    I reported it, and we were credited the money back within 48 hours. They canceled the card that was used and sent a new one. It was completely painless.

    On the other hand, we had a credit card as a backup. Someone I know on Facebook had $150 spent fraudulently. They had $20 to last nearly two weeks. Which is another argument for an emergency fund or, at least, a credit card. Sheesh!

  25. Correy Smith

    Michelle, the experience that you had of the guy wanting you to yell out your personal information sure would get me nervous as well. It seems like now days it’s been a common issue to be on the alert of. Well, if you were the victim of identity theft, how would you be able to bring this up to the criminal attorney and is it something that they can easily work with you?

  26. Lara

    Great post. I agree with your all points.