When someone steals your identity it can result in a loss of time and money, and equal up to a big hassle for you. It’s important to know what to do after identity theft happens so you can recover quickly. This free guide is designed to teach you how to recover from identity theft step by step, so you can take decisive action. By taking the right steps, you can secure your personal information and accounts, while minimizing the time, cost and hassle of the recovery process.

Step 1: If the theft involved a specific account, contact that creditor immediately

Most cases of fraud involve a single account. Someone gains access to a credit card or your checking account through your debit card. They make unauthorized transactions and typically try to run the card up to the limit or drain your funds completely.

In some cases, your creditor may contact you if you have fraud protection set up to flag suspicious transactions. If so, respond to any notifications promptly – never wait or leave it for tomorrow. The sooner you identify unauthorized transactions, the less likely it is that you’ll be on the hook for the expenses.

If you notice unrecognized charges on your account or your card is lost or stolen, contact the creditor immediately to report the potential fraud. If in fact your account is compromised, the creditor will help you close that account and open a new one.

Step 2: Notify the credit bureaus

You next step should be to contact the credit bureaus. You want to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This makes it harder for thieves to open new credit in your name if they may have your personal information.

  1. Contact one of the 3 bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
  2. Tell them you believe you’re the victim of identity theft.
  3. Request an initial 90-day fraud alert on your report.

For 90 days, the credit bureaus and creditors must take extra steps to verify your identity before any new credit line can be opened in your name. You only need to contact one bureau to place the alert. They will contact the other two to share the information. So with one call, you place fraud alerts on your reports from all three bureaus.

This 90-day alert is renewable if you choose to extend it. There is also an extended fraud alert as well as a “credit freeze” that you may decide to add later. You usually take these extra steps if the theft has been significant or aggressive. More on this in the “Additional Steps” below.

Step 3: Contact law enforcement

This is a step people often think they can skip. But in order to move forward with an identity theft recovery plan from the FTC, you need a police report. Also keep in mind that while identity theft may not involve physical property it’s still theft.

  1. Contact your local police department.
  2. Let them know what happened and ask that they create an identity theft report.
  3. Request a copy of the report for your records.

If the theft occurred somewhere else, like while you were on vacation, you may choose to report the fraud in that jurisdiction as well. However, in most cases it’s sufficient to simply report it where you live.

Step 4: Set up a recovery plan through the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not investigate cases of identity theft. However, they provide an identity theft recovery plan that you can follow to recover quickly. They also share information you provide with investigators nationwide.

  1. Go to identitytheft.gov to get started.
  2. You’ll be asked a series of questions to report the theft; answer them as accurately as possible.
  3. Provide documentation requested, including your police report if it’s required.
  4. Receive an identity theft recovery action plan.
  5. Follow the steps as indicated to recover quickly.

Step 5: Report fraud to the Florida CFO

In addition to national reporting, you may also choose to report the fraud through the website of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). This is particularly useful if you were defrauded when doing business with a company in Florida. The CFO’s office investigates companies accused of fraud and may pursue legal action. You can help put fraudulent Florida service providers out of business to ensure others in your situation don’t face the same consequences.

  1. Click on the following link to get to the Florida CFO’s Fraud Reporting Portal.
  2. Select the type of fraud you need to report and select “citizen.”
  3. Answer the questions that follow and provide your contact information for follow ups.
  4. Respond promptly to any responses or requests for more information.

Additional Steps for Identity Theft Recovery

The five steps listed above cover the basic steps you should take to report fraud once it occurs. Not all of the steps may apply in your situation. For instance, if a person defrauded you rather than a company, then you would not report this to the Florida CFO’s office. You can skip Step 5. In some cases, if only a single account is compromised you may stop at Step 1 and simply monitor your accounts for any other activity.

In any case, there are some additional steps you can take to protect your identity moving forward. These steps help ensure that you can rest easy knowing the identity theft has been dealt with and won’t come back to haunt you.

Consider filing an extended credit alert with a credit bureau

As mentioned above, in addition to the renewable 90-day initial fraud alert, you can also place an extended fraud alert.

  1. In order to place an extended report, you must have a completed Identity Theft Report from the FTC (Step 4).
  2. You provide a copy of that report to a credit bureau and ask for an extended alert.

An extended alert remains on your report for seven years from the date it was put in place. However, you can request for it to be removed prior to that if you no longer need it. Creditors must take extra steps to verify your identity before accounts can be opened. You are also removed from prescreened credit offers to minimize the chance of new accounts in your name.

You are also granted 2 free copies of your credit report within 12 months of placing the alert. An initial alert only allows one report.

Put a full “credit freeze” on your credit

Credit freezes are the strongest response you can use to combat identity theft. Once this is placed, few creditors and lenders can access your credit report without express authorization. Rules for credit freezes vary by state, but the following rules usually apply:

  1. Contact the Florida State Attorney General’s Office.
  2. Ask to place and credit freeze and find out how long it lasts.
  3. Contact each of the three credit bureaus to request a freeze on your report.
  4. In most cases, you will be required to pay a few, usually around $10.

Take advantage of free report review opportunities

By law, all consumers can check their credit report for free once every twelve months through annualcreditreport.com. Unlike “free credit score” offers you receive to your inbox, this is a government mandated website that provides reports with no strings attached. You credit score is not included, but for the purposes of spotting identity theft you don’t need it.

You want to take advantage of this free report each year to review your credit. You should look for accounts you don’t recognize, reported balances that are higher than they should be, or any other suspicious activity.

When you place an initial fraud alert you are allowed one extra copy of your reports. When you place an extended alert you can receive 2 reports within 12 months of placing the alert. Take advantage of these extra opportunities and review your reports to make sure no new unauthorized accounts of popped up.

Change your passwords & increase security settings

After fraud occurs, particularly if your identity was stolen in something like a data breach, you want change your passwords. Go into all of your accounts and update your passwords. If possible, use a random password generator so it’s harder to guess to gain access.

You may also want to change your security settings to add extra protection. If you can add fraud protection to a credit or bank account, do so.

Monitor your accounts closely

You need to be even more vigilant about reading your monthly statements after identity theft. Make sure to review all monthly statements carefully to ensure you recognize all of the transactions. Don’t let anything slip by and notify the creditor if you see something you don’t recognize.