Identity Theft Recovery Guidelines

Think You’re Already a Victim? Follow These Seven Steps.

If you suspect ANY improper or illegal activity is taking place, follow the seven steps below immediately. You can also watch the video that covers the same identity theft recovery topics. We also help you find out how much identity theft might cost you.

Check Your Credit Report

Get a copy of your credit report to see if any new accounts or credit inquiries show up. Virtually all of your credit information is in your credit report. If someone is opening accounts in your name, it should show up there.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud (for example; you’ve had your mail stolen, lost your wallet, or been contacted by a collection agency for an account you’ve never heard of), you should contact the fraud department for each bureau. You are eligible for a free credit report sent via U.S. mail.

Place a Fraud Alert

Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and report that you think your identity has been stolen. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.

If you’re a resident of many states, you can also apply to "freeze" your credit.

Start Your Research

Contact each company where you think you might have been a victim. Talk to their security or fraud department and explain what has happened. Review your account with them for any incorrect charges or a change of address. If you find something is wrong, you may need to close the account. If you open any new accounts, ask the company to put passwords (not your motherís maiden name) on the account.

The Federal Trade Commission has tried to make this process easier by creating an Identity Theft Affidavit. It’s a document you can fill out once and use with each company investigation. Get it here (you will need a web plug-in called Adobe Acrobat), or go to the FTC web site to learn more.

File a Police Report

File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime later on. Also, make sure that the crime is reported under identity theft.

Document Everything

Make notes of everyone you speak with; ask for names, department names, phone extensions; record the date you spoke to them. Don’t throw these notes away! Keep all notes and letters together in case they are needed in the future. Keep track of the time you spend documenting this information and lost hours at work. You will need this information if the perpetrator is ever caught. You can be reimbursed for the time spent and hours lost. One person I know reclaimed $3200 for her effort!

Talk to the Government Agencies

The Federal Trade Commission

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the Commission assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

If you’re see that you’re a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting their hotline.

By phone:
Toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502

By mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Online ID Theft Complaint Form

The Post Office

Contact your local office of the Postal Inspection Service if you suspect that an identity thief has submitted a change-of-address form with the Post Office to redirect your mail, or has used the mail to commit frauds involving your identity.

The Social Security Administration

Contact the Social Security Administration with any allegations that involve the following:

– Buying and selling of counterfeit or legitimate SSN cards.
– Misuse involving people with links to terrorist groups or activities.
– Misuse of an SSN by someone else to obtain Social Security benefits.

The Internal Revenue Service

Contact the Internal Revenue Service If you suspect the improper use of identification information in connection with tax violations (call 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations).

Talk to the Check Verification Companies

If someone is using checks they’ve stolen from you or has set up a bank account in your name, contact the major check verification companies. In particular, if you know that a particular merchant has received a check stolen from you, contact the verification company that the merchant uses.

Is Identity Theft Going to Cost You?

It clearly is going to cost you time and money to clear up. But your liability for charges can be limited if you report any problems promptly. Here’s the info:

Credit Cards

If you report the loss before the credit card is used, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges. If a thief uses your credit card before you report it missing, the most you will owe for unauthorized charges is $50 per card. This is true even if the thief uses your credit card at an ATM machine to obtain a cash advance.

As your liability is limited to $50, beware of calls from telemarketers selling "loss protection" insurance. Some telemarketers may falsely claim that you will be responsible for all unauthorized charges made against your account if your credit card is stolen. Don’t buy the pitch and don’t buy the unnecessary insurance.

How to Contact Visa, MasterCard, and American Express

  • Visa – (800) 847-2911
  • Mastercard – (800) MC-ASSIST
  • ATM and Debit Cards

    Be aware that ATM and debit cards do not allow the same protections as credit cards. If you fail to report unauthorized charges within a timely manner, you could be held liable for the charges.

    • If you report an ATM or debit card missing before it is used without your permission, your financial institution cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals.
    • If you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen within two business days of discovering the loss or theft, your liability is limited to $50.
    • If you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen after the two business days, but within 60 days after a statement showing an unauthorized withdrawal, you can be liable for up to $500 of what a thief withdraws.
    • If you wait more than 60 days, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days and before you report the card missing.


    Most states hold the bank responsible for the losses from a forged check. However, you may be held liable for the forgery if you do not notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen, or if you do not monitor your account statements and promptly report an unauthorized transaction. Contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers using their databases not to accept the lost or stolen checks, or ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business.