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What to do if you are a victim of identity theft

Steps to consider taking immediately and how to be proactive in the future.

Last updated: November 28, 2022 |

Article published: December 14, 2021

In 2020, identity fraud losses totaled almost $56 billion.* People of all ages, education levels and incomes get scammed. In spite of your best efforts, you may still become a victim. If you become a victim of identity theft, take these steps:

Contact the fraud division

Notify every financial institution where you have accounts (that includes us!). Call the fraud division of each one. Maintain a log of dates and times you called, the telephone number, whom you spoke to, the outcome of the call and any next steps you or the institution agreed to take.

It is also good practice to send a certified letter, return receipt requested, to the person you spoke with, confirming the call and summarizing the conversation. If you send an email instead, require that they confirm receipt.

Keep your original logs, notes and documents. Upon request, send copies; never give originals to anyone. It is also recommended to keep all records for at least seven years after you have resolved the last problem.

Place a fraud alert on your record

Place a 90-day fraud alert on your record with the nationwide credit reporting agencies:

When there is a fraud alert on your report, creditors are supposed to contact you to verify you want to open a new account. An extended seven-year fraud alert is available to victims of identity theft who file an identity theft report filed with law enforcement.

File reports with the authorities

File reports with the police and the Federal Trade Commission. Also, ask them about the latest scams that you may not know about.

Validate your information

Contact your local post office, Social Security office and the Department of Motor Vehicles to confirm they each have accurate information about you and your address.

Alert professional entities

Inform every entity that has access to your financial and credit records, including your doctors, pharmacy, and insurance and mortgage companies.

Report fraudulent transactions

If you see a fraudulent transaction or misrepresentation committed in your name, inform the vendor and financial institution involved in a timely manner. Dispute the bill, and do not pay it.

If someone illegally uses your credit card, your maximum liability for each account is $50 if you report it within 50 days. Debit cards are another matter: Your liability is $50, but only for the first two days after the card is lost or stolen. Your liability increases to $500 for the next 58 days, and after 60 days, your liability is unlimited. Thus, if you have a line of credit attached to your checking or savings account, you could lose thousands of dollars.

Consider closing affected accounts

While this may be a hassle, close all affected credit card, investment and bank accounts, and open new ones.

Put your request in writing and ask each institution to place on each account the statement, “Account closed at customer’s request.”

You can also issue “stop payment” requests on all missing or outstanding checks. Ask each bank and credit card company for a copy of its “fraud dispute form.” Fill it out promptly and return by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Change your passwords

Change all your online passwords, and if the option is available, enable two-factor authentication on all your accounts to help protect you against online scams.

Other ways to be proactive to help avoid identity theft

Review your bank and credit card statements

Often, by the time you’re notified of an overdraft or that your credit card limit has been reached, it might be too late to protect yourself from identity theft. Review your bank and credit card statements every month, looking for fraudulent activity.

If you still receive your statements via mail service, know your billing and statement cycles and when they should arrive. If your mail is late, investigate, as thieves may have infiltrated your mailbox. And always shred old statements rather than throwing them away to reduce the chances of them gleaning information that way.

Check your credit report regularly

Ideally, you’d look at it weekly to see whether any accounts have been opened in your name without your knowledge, or whether any of your legitimate accounts show unauthorized activity. Weekly is ideal because someone who steals your identity will usually cause the most damage during the first week to 10 days. But we realize this is not always realistic due to the time and effort involved. So, examine your credit report at least annually. And if you see old accounts listed that you no longer use, close them.

Be wary of phone calls and emails

Be wary of phone calls and emails from people you don’t know. Identity thieves might contact you repeatedly because they know that prior victims are often easily scammed again.

The first line of defense for any victim of identity theft is you. Be vigilant and aware of how scammers are targeting people and use your best judgment when responding to mail, email or phone calls. For more information on identity theft, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website.


* Buzzard, J., & Kitten, T. (2021). 2021 Identity Fraud Study: Shifting Angles. Javelin. javelinstrategy.com/Javelin-2021-Identity-Fraud-Study

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