What to do if your identity is stolen: 6 steps to consider

The earlier you can catch fraud or identity theft, the better. If you spot something out of the ordinary—maybe you received a credit card you didn’t apply for or got a call about an account you never opened—don’t delay in taking action.

Wondering where to start? Here’s a list of things to do right away if you suspect you’ve become a victim of identity theft.

Key takeaways

  • Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission to commit fraud.
  • If your identity has been stolen, it helps to prevent further damage by communicating with your credit card companies and banks and reporting the theft to the police and federal government.
  • You can protect your credit by requesting a fraud alert be placed on your file or by freezing your credit reports.

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What is identity theft?

Identity theft happens when your personal or financial information is taken and used without your permission. This information might include your:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social Security number
  • Credit card number
  • Bank account number
  • Medical insurance account number

This stolen information might be used to do things like make purchases with your credit card, steal your tax refund, open a credit or utility account in your name or use your health insurance.

How can someone steal your identity?

There are a lot of ways identity theft can happen, from simple theft to phishing, credit card skimmers and other computer attacks. It’s a good idea to create strong passwords and keep an eye out for common scams.

6 steps to take if your identity has been stolen

If you find out your identity has been stolen, here are steps to take that can minimize potential damage:

1. Alert companies of fraud

If you’re aware of fraud on any of your accounts, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests first calling the company’s fraud department and explaining the situation. You can ask them to close or freeze the account for the time being. You can also change the usernames, passwords and PINs for your other accounts to protect you from further damage.

If your credit card is lost or stolen, your bank can lock the lost card and issue you a replacement card with a new number.

2. Contact the 3 major credit bureaus

If accounts are opened with your information, it could affect your credit. You can ask for a fraud alert and even a security freeze to be placed on your file.

A fraud alert ensures that no new credit can be granted without your approval. When requesting a fraud alert, you only have to contact one of the three major credit bureaus. That bureau will notify the other two. Here’s where you can place a fraud alert with each of the bureaus:

With a fraud alert, your identity must be verified by potential creditors before issuing new credit. But with a security freeze, your credit reports can’t be accessed and new credit lines can’t be opened. Unlike a fraud alert, you have to freeze your credit with each bureau separately. Here’s where you can place a security freeze with each of the main credit bureaus:

Learn more about the difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze

3. Report the theft to the police and the federal government

You can file a complaint with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov and get help creating a personal recovery plan. 

You can also file a report with the police locally or where the identity theft took place. The police report number and a copy of the report can be helpful as proof of the crime when you contact your banks and credit card companies. 

4. Keep a record of everything

Staying organized can help make your identity theft recovery as smooth as possible. Keep a record of information related to the theft, including:

  • Digital or hard copies of emails
  • Notes from phone conversations with creditors
  • A list of banks or agencies you contacted, including dates, times, who you spoke to and contact numbers
  • Any mail or additional documentation

5. Check your credit

Monitoring your credit can help you stay on top of any new changes to your accounts, like potentially fraudulent lines of credit. You can get free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com

Plus, you could sign up for CreditWise from Capital One, which offers credit monitoring and dark web monitoring. It’s free for everyone, even if you’re not a Capital One customer.

6. Dispute any inaccuracies

With alerts or freezes in place, you can breathe a little easier. But it’s still important to check for any suspicious activity that may have already happened. If you notice a mistake or an unauthorized account, the FTC says you can dispute it with the credit bureau.

In a letter to the bureau that has an error, explain which information is wrong and include supporting documentation. Remember to keep records of all communication. Here’s how to file a dispute with each bureau:

What to do if your identity is stolen in a nutshell

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can find peace of mind knowing there are ways to help prevent further damage and fix anything suspicious that’s happened. This may include temporarily pressing pause on things related to your credit and taking a closer look at your credit reports.

Identity theft can be stressful—but with the right steps, you can help keep your accounts safe. Learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information, or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. Your CreditWise score is a good measure of your overall credit health, but it is not likely to be the same score used by creditors. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

CreditWise Alerts are based on changes to your TransUnion and Experian® credit reports and information we find on the dark web.

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