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When you are the victim of identity theft, you must deal with the logistical impact of the crime (contacting creditors, correcting your credit report, etc) as well as the emotional aftermath. The process may leave you feeling violated, frustrated and helpless. The following information can help you to figure out what to do if it happens to you. Knowing what to do and those to contact can empower you to get your credit straightened out and help you to regain your emotional balance.

What You Need to Know

Many identity theft victims have no idea what their rights are, and may make mistakes as a result. Here are five important facts to know before you make a move:

  • Federal law states that the victim of identity theft on a debit card is liable for only the first $50 of losses if you notify the financial institution within two business days of learning of the loss. If you wait more than two business days to notify the financial institution after learning of the loss, your liability can jump to $500. After 60 calendar days from when your statement is sent, you are liable up to the entire account balance. For credit cards, you are liable up to a maximum of $50. Many financial institutions will waive even that amount. In either case of credit or debit cards, if you report the card theft before the card is used you are not responsible for any unauthorized charges.
  • You're entitled by law to a free copy of your credit report if you are a victim of identity theft.
  • You should not pay for items fraudulently purchased with your credit card. Stand by your legal rights. If you pay these bills, you are implying that you are responsible for the debts.
  • In most cases, do NOT change your Social Security number. Such a move makes you look more suspicious to future creditors, not less. And, it doesn't protect you from someone stealing the new number as well.
  • If collection companies harass you after you have written to explain you were the victim of fraud, they could be violating federal law. Document such attempts and let them know you may take legal action if they continue.

What You Need to Do

Now that you know the ropes, it's time to take action. Contact the organizations listed below that apply to your situation:

Contact the police, especially if your wallet (or purse) was stolen. It's smart to notify the authorities of any identity theft crime, since it may be helpful to have a police report to back up your claims with creditors.

Contact the credit bureaus. This is an essential step for any victim of identity theft. There are two actions you should request:

  1. Ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your file.
  2. Order a copy of your credit report to see what fraudulent accounts may have been opened in your name.The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) allows for all consumers to receive a free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every 12 months. Reports can be ordered through or by calling 877-322-8228. You will not be able to receive a free report by contacting the credit bureaus directly. Contact your bank, credit union and creditors to let them know of your situation. Request an account freeze for any affected accounts.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to file a complaint. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains a toll-free identity theft hotline at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Use the FTC website to report identity theft and create a recovery plan.

Contact the Postal Inspector if you suspect that someone has changed your address with the post office or used the mail to commit identity theft.

Contact Social Security to alert them to someone using your Social Security number. Their Fraud Hotline can be reached at 800-269-0271.

Contact your Department of Motor Vehicles if your driver's license number was used by a thief. They may recommend that you cancel the old number and receive a new one.

Surviving identity theft is never easy, but the information above should give you the tools you need to get through the worst of it.

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