Act Quickly to Minimize Damage from Identity Theft

Identity thieves steal in countless ways from their victims. Victims may discover that identity thieves have made charges on or withdrawals from their accounts, opened new credit cards or taken out loans in their names, or even filed for bankruptcy using the stolen identity. Victims may find that their social security number has been used on a thief's job application, or that their name was given to police during an arrest. Identity theft victims will spend money and time-probably large amounts of each-in uncovering the extent of the damage and in repairing it, in order to restore their good name.

If you have lost personal identification or information, or if you think that it might have been stolen from you, you should take prompt steps to ward off the possibility that the missing items are being used by identify thieves. A stolen wallet should trigger an immediate cancellation of credit card accounts, as well as contact with your state driver's license bureau or other identification-issuing agency. You should contact the three major consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, 1-800-525-6285; Experian, 1-888-397-3742; and TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289) and ask that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report. This initial alert, which stays on your report for at least 90 days, requires an identification verification before credit is issued. It also entitles you to a free credit report from each of the reporting agencies.

If you are not merely suspicious, but certain, that you have been the victim of identity theft, you should act immediately to minimize the damage:

  • Place an extended fraud alert on your credit reports. This alert will stay on your report for seven years.
  • Request and thoroughly review your credit reports, looking for unauthorized charges and inquiries from companies that you don't remember contacting. Follow up on questionable items, dispute those that you are sure were the thief's doing, and take steps to correct any errors that you find. Continue to review your credit reports periodically; the extended fraud alert entitles you to two free credit reports within 12 months.
  • Close accounts that you find have been opened in your name or accounts that you opened but from which the thief has made unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Contact the credit issuers' fraud department and follow up in writing to dispute any unauthorized charges. Request the credit issuers' fraud dispute forms, or (if they use it) submit the ID Theft Affidavit developed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is discussed further below.
  • Cancel your existing credit cards and have new ones reissued as needed, with new passwords or personal identification numbers.
  • File a police report.
  • File a complaint with the FTC through the agency's Identity Theft Clearinghouse (1-877-IDTHEFT or online through a link on
  • In the case of stolen checks, notify the issuing bank and close the account. In the case of a social security number, notify the Social Security Administration.
  • Throughout the process, stay organized by keeping a record of all phone conversations, correspondence, emails, etc.
  • Seek legal assistance, if necessary.

The FTC has a form intended to help identity theft victims by simplifying the reporting process for identity theft crimes. The ID Theft Affidavit is a model form that can be used to report information. The FTC developed the ID Theft Affidavit in consultation with banks, credit issuers and consumer advocacy organizations, and, as a result, many credit card companies, financial institutions and retailers accept this form. It is particularly helpful when an identity thief has opened multiple new accounts with the victim's information.

The precise action that an identity theft victim needs to take can differ depending on what personal information the thief has stolen. The FTC has an online guide, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, which provides general guidance for identity theft victims along with detailed information on resolving specific problems (including investment fraud, mail theft, passport fraud, social security number misuse, student loans, tax fraud and bankruptcy fraud). The guide includes sample forms and letters, and can be accessed through a link on the FTC Web site noted above.

Identity theft victims can feel overwhelmed by the scope of their potential problems and by all that they must do to rectify them. By acting quickly-while staying calm and keeping organized-identity theft victims can successfully regain their credit standing and overall good name.

June 27, 2017
by Scott Ligouri
Managing Partner