Here’s how to repair the damage wreaked on your credit accounts by identity thieves.

3 minute read

Few things send a chill up your spine like the thought of someone stealing your identity to open new credit accounts under your name, make unauthorized purchases or fraudulently obtain health care benefits or services. Yet identity thieves are always lurking, ready to use your good credit to benefit themselves.

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft, twice as many as in 2019. Of those reports, more than 406,000 were from people who said someone else used their personal information to apply for a government document or government benefits, according to the FTC.

The road to recovering from identity theft is no fun, filled with contacting creditors, closing accounts and reporting fraudulent activity to the proper authorities. Still, it’s crucial that you take the proper steps to protect your credit and repair any damage.

Get a copy of your credit report

One of the first steps to recovering from identity theft is ordering and reviewing a copy of your credit report. You can order one free copy of your credit report a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get a free copy by signing up for a service such as Credit Karma, which allows access to your credit scores and credit report anytime.

When reviewing your credit report, review it closely for unfamiliar credit card, loan or other credit accounts that you didn’t open so you can get to work on your identity theft recovery.

Contact companies where the fraud occurred

Once you know the accounts fraudulently opened under your name, contact the companies where the fraud occurred. Explain that your identity was stolen and ask them to close or freeze the accounts. That way, no one else can add charges without your permission.

Ask the company to send a letter confirming that the fraudulent account is not yours, you’re not liable for it and the account was removed from your credit report. Then save the letter you receive. You may need it later if the account is still on your credit report.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report

To prevent new instances of identity theft, place a free one-year fraud alert with each of the three major credit bureaus. When you place a fraud alert on your credit account, potential creditors must first confirm your identity before accessing your credit report for a credit check. You can quickly and easily place a fraud alert online with Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.

Report the identity theft

If you’re a victim of identity theft, report the fraud to the FTC using the agency’s online form. You may also want to file a report with your local police department. Keep copies of all reports filed for future reference or in case you need them for businesses contacted or other fraud reports.

Remove fraudulent charges from accounts

If someone made fraudulent charges on your credit card or another account, contact the business where the transaction occurred and explain that the charge was a result of identity theft. Ask the business to remove the charge and send you a letter confirming that the business removed the charge from your account.

Make sure you hang on to the letter, in case the fraudulent charge doesn’t go away. Also make sure you write down the name of the person you spoke with and the date contacted.

Correct your credit report

When someone steals your identity, you have the right to remove or “block” fraudulent information so it doesn’t show up on your credit report, according to the FTC. Once you do this, companies aren’t allowed to try to collect the fraudulent debts.

You will need a copy of your FTC identity theft report to ensure that a major credit bureau honors your request. Contact the credit bureau with incorrect information, which may be all three – Experian, TransUnion or Equifax – to remove information for fraudulently opened accounts.

Monitor your credit report

Once you’re taken the tedious but necessary steps to recover from identity theft, make sure you review your credit report regularly, at least every six months. That way, if more fraudulent charges or accounts show up on your credit report, you can nip the identity theft in the bud.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC