How to Recover A Stolen Identity

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Hail to the Thief!Having your identity stolen is one of the most jarring things that can happen to you and your financial life. It’s difficult in part because of the uncertainty – how it was stolen, where it was stolen, how much of your financial life has been compromised, and the unknown of what the thief could be doing with your name. When someone steals your wallet, you are probably aware of it relatively quickly. When someone steals your identity, it can be months, even years, before you realize it.

In this latest post in the Financial Contingency Plan series, I explain how to prepare for and react to when your identity is stolen.

Before Your Identity is Stolen

Recovering from a stolen identity isn’t a difficult problem, it’s just a very long and complicated process depending on how aggressive the thief was. The key to navigating that process is a proper map. In this case, the map should be a list of all your financial accounts along with customer service numbers. In the event your identity is stolen, you’ll need to call each of these accounts and notify them that your identity has been compromised.

Next, I would do everything listed in my post about do-it-yourself identity theft protection. The steps explain how you can reduce the amount of personal information you make available.

This is also when you will want to be diligent in reviewing your credit reports annually. If your identity is stolen, you want to catch it early and you can’t get it earlier than on your credit report. Also, Review your annual Social Security statement carefully because oftentimes stolen Social Security numbers are used for employment purposes.

After Your Identity is Stolen

Fortunately, the FTC has laid out a four step process for those recovering from ID theft. The four steps, which they elaborate on, are:

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
  2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

While they only list four steps, each of those steps takes quite a bit of time and is made easier if you have a list of your accounts. If you discover your bank account has been tampered with, you will need to close that account and open a new one, with new account numbers and brand new checks.

One step I would add to the process is to change the passwords to your accounts with online access. Log in, confirm they are still secure (the phone number, email, or address on file has not changed), and change the password so they are secure and unique. Do not share passwords across different accounts. This will seem like a pain but it’s more of a headache to lose your account sometime down the road because you forgot to secure it. 🙁

Billing Disputes

In the event that the identity thief racked up a large debt and you discovered this because a collection agency has called, you may want to seek legal advice as to how to respond. You should refuse to pay, as it’s not your responsibility because you didn’t rack up the debt, but you may face civil and criminal prosecution as a result of the thief’s activities. At this point, I think it’s important to secure a lawyer as they will know what to do in your jurisdiction.

Good luck and if you’ve dealt with identity theft in this way, please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments!

(Photo: Bonard)

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “How to Recover A Stolen Identity”

  1. Using the same password for all of your accounts is just asking for trouble. You have to make it as difficult as possible for a thief to compromise you.

  2. Ron says:

    Having been through identity theft myself, these are great tips. With regard to number four, do both and I would add:

    #5 — Press charges. Once I had a conviction in my case, getting things reversed on my credit report was a breeze. The thief plead guilty to a Class C Felony and was given three years probation. In the state where he committed the crime, if he does it again, it’s a mandatory 10 years in prison.

  3. Wilma says:

    Some thing I would add is that when you name your children, it may be cute to give them all the same initials but latter on it could be a financial nightmare. You would think the SS# the only thing that is checked out but those initials can create confusion too. Many times I got calls from creditors who thought I was married to my brother. Some how his stuff ended up on my SS#. Then it was compounded later on by an ex-girlfriend of my brother who took on my name and address, posed as my brothers wife and 4 states away used his SS# to go on a spending spree. Apparently in a port town that serves our military all you need is an SS# and you have instant credit. It was so bad at one point I almost changed my name. My credit was burnt toast with a fork in it. It took years of writing letters and making phone calls to straighten out my credit. The credit bureau runs at a snails pace and they don’t believe you or change anything till they get proof.

  4. billsnider says:

    This is a painful experience. I hope onone here has it happen to them.

    Part of the problem is that people are to trusting. They freely give out info without about themselves.

    Bill snider

  5. Good tip on seeking the services of a lawyer. In the end I suppose you may not know everything that has been tampered with and it will be good to find someone who can help you with the legal battles.

    I would definitely reach out to all financial institutions and let them know what has occurred. Communication is definitely the best thing to do in such cases. Get a point of contact with your bank so that you can stay in touch with this person and call back often if needed. You don’t want to have to repeat your situation to a new person everytime you call.

    Overally, identify theft is a scary situation and there are plenty of things we can all do to prevent it. As you said, don’t share passwords across accounts and be careful as to what personal information you’re sharing either on or off line.

  6. lanie says:

    Has any used Lifelock before? Any opnion please?

  7. paul says:

    I’d suggest doing a search. Slashdot had a post re Lifelock and some ID theft problems.

    Lifelock Worries After Employee Data Leaked To Web on Wednesday May 26, @11:00PM

    If for no other reason, this page can be worthwhile because you’ll get a variety of opinions and experiences. Note that the language on Slashdot can be a bit “edgy” at times.

    Here’s another opinion re Lifelock.

    Otherwise again, just do a search using “lifelock +opinions” (without the quotes, of course). If you use “reviews” as a qualifier, you’re apt to get info that is a bit more “marketing” oriented.

    For example, when I use that search (lifelock +opinions) on Google, the first hit is this.

  8. Ralph says:

    It is unfortunate that people have to deal with the possibility of getting their identity stolen. Thanks for information on avoidance and action if you are in this situation.

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