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Published: Sep 19, 2023 11 min read

If you're the victim of identity theft, it's crucial to report it quickly to reduce its impact on your financial life.

That involves notifying multiple agencies, and following specific — often confusing — processes.

Becoming a victim of identity theft isn't something you'll want to ignore because the results could harm your credit score and overall financial health. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what to do if your identity has been compromised, and how to make sure it never happens again.

Table of Contents

What is identity theft?

Becoming a victim of identity theft could harm your credit score and overall financial health.

This type of fraud, which involves stealing someone's personal or financial information, affects about 1 in 20 Americans, according to Experian. There are various types of identity theft, including the unauthorized use of accounts or the use of someone else’s personal information to open a new account or commit fraud.

For example, identity thieves might use your Social Security number to claim your tax refund or take out a loan in your name. They could also gain access to your credit card number to make unauthorized purchases or use your debit card information to drain existing bank accounts.

If you want to protect yourself from identity theft, you might want to look into the services of one of the best identity theft protection services. In addition to that, you should also get to know the tactics these criminals use. These can include:

  • Using public Wi-Fi connections to intercept data transmitted between an unsecured network and your device.
  • Emailing you malicious links or attachments that infect your computer or smartphone, giving them access to the device.
  • Calling your phone and impersonating government agencies, card issuers or financial institution employees to trick you into sharing information.
  • Sending text messages that trick you into sharing information or clicking a malicious link.
  • Using a data breach to gain unauthorized access to your employer’s databases.
  • Stealing mail, digging through the trash for documents or swiping wallets containing your credit card or Social Security information.

What to do if your identity is stolen

If you suspect someone has stolen your identity, immediately file an online report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection at IdentityTheft.gov.

You can create an account with the FTC's identity theft portal, which will give you access to an identity recovery plan based on your circumstances. Other helpful resources available on the site include sample letters you can send to credit reporting agencies and lenders asking to get inaccurate information removed from your credit report.

It's also possible to report the incident by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). However, filing an online report is recommended because it's faster, and you can print the information to share with your local authorities and lenders.

How to file a report for identity theft

The FTC notifies relevant law enforcement agencies automatically when you file an online report through IdentityTheft.org. Still, it’s worth filing a report yourself to your local police department.

Additionally, you should contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or IRS if you're a Social Security or tax scam victim.

How to file a police report for identity theft

It's a good idea to file a report with local law enforcement, especially if you know who committed the crime or if the thief used your information during an interaction with the police (like an arrest). You might also need a copy of this police report in the future, as some creditors or financial institutions could ask for evidence before closing fraudulent accounts opened in your name.

Here are the steps you should take to file a police report for identity theft:

  • File an identity theft report with the FTC. Print a copy of your report as authorities will ask for it.
  • Visit your local police department and be prepared to present a government-issued photo ID and proof of your address (such as a utility bill).
  • It's also helpful to show documentation that proves the theft — like bank statements or notices from government agencies.
  • Once you file the report, ask for a copy. Other agencies or companies might ask for it as evidence.

How to report identity theft to Social Security

To report a Social Security fraud, contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the SSA. Submit a fraud report online or call the OIG's fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

You'll need to provide your personal information and a description of how and when the fraud was committed. You can file the report if you don't know these details; however, sharing as much information as possible can help speed up the case.

Additionally, if your Social Security card was stolen, you can request a copy online from the SSA website.

How to report identity theft to credit bureaus

Identity theft can negatively impact your credit score, so it’s important to report the crime to one of the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. These agencies are required to place a fraud alert on your credit report if you say your personal info has been stolen, which lets lenders and creditors know that they should take extra steps to confirm your identity before opening up new accounts under your name. You only need to contact one of the three agencies (it will pass on the request to the other two). Be sure to get a free copy of your credit report while you’re at it.

Fraud alerts typically last one year. However, you can request an extended, seven-year fraud alert after you file an identity theft report with the FTC or your local police.

To request a fraud alert, contact one of the bureaus ASAP. Here are the phone numbers and online fraud alert pages for all three agencies:

Credit bureau Phone number Website
TransUnion 800-680-7289 Transunion.com
Equifax Credit Information Services 800-525-6285 Equifax.com
Experian 888-397-3742 Experian.com

How to report identity theft to the IRS

If you are the victim of identity theft, you'll need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). This informs the IRS that someone stole your identity, even if they haven't used it to file a fraudulent tax return yet. Alternatively, you can contact the IRS at 800-908-4490 to inform them about the identity theft.

You should also consider setting up an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). Commonly called the IRS tax PIN, this is a tool that prevents scammers from filing a tax return using your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Tips when making an identity claim

These are some additional steps to consider if your information has been compromised:

  • Contact the Department of Labor fraud hotline if someone used your information to file for unemployment benefits. You can find the number of your state office on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
  • Ask each of the credit bureaus for a credit freeze. This stops anyone (including yourself) from applying for new credit lines until the freeze is lifted. Do note that, under federal law, security freezes don’t apply to credit report requests made for employment, tenant screening or insurance purposes.
  • Inform your bank and credit card companies about the incident. Most have dedicated fraud departments that can help you safeguard your existing accounts and get new account numbers. This also stops lenders from transferring accounts that don’t belong to you to debt collectors.
  • Change your usernames and passwords, especially on your financial accounts. Additionally, consider getting a password manager.
  • Consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service, which can alert you whenever someone uses your information fraudulently. If you need help picking the right one, make sure to check out our list of the Best Identity Theft Protection Services.}

Understanding where to report identity theft, how the process works and the necessary steps to take can make your life far easier.

How to report identity theft FAQs

What is identity theft?

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal or financial information through email, scam calls and other methods.

What should I do if I suspect I am the victim of identity theft?

If you think you're the victim of identity theft, act quickly. Notify the FTC, at least one of the major credit bureaus and the financial institutions you have accounts with (banks, credit card issuers and more).

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert lets lenders and creditors know that they should take extra steps to confirm your identity before opening a new account under your name. When you notify one of the "big three" credit bureaus that your identity has been compromised, the agency will automatically place a fraud alert on your credit report.

How long does it take to recover from identity theft?

Depending on the complexity of your case, it could take several weeks to a year or longer to fully restore your identity after identity theft.

Summary of Money’s guide to reporting identity theft

If you believe you’re an identity theft victim, file a report with the FTC through its website. You should also notify local police, since banks and other financial institutions may ask for a police report to freeze or close fraudulent accounts. In the event of Social Security or tax fraud, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It’s also important to read up on how to protect yourself from identity theft to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of other scams. It is possible to recover from identity theft if you take all the necessary steps and follow the correct reporting protocols.