What Is Identity Theft?
If someone uses your name or personal information to do something without your permission, that is identity theft. It is identity theft if someone uses your information to do any of these things without permission:
- Buy things
- Open new credit cards
- Use your credit card or ATM card
- Use your checkbook
- Access your online bank account
- Rent an apartment
- Get utilities or public benefits
- Get medical services
- Take your tax refund, or
- Pretend to be you during contact with police
These are just examples. Identity theft can take many different forms.
Identity theft can happen to anyone, including children and seniors. Sometimes, the thief is a stranger. In other cases, the thief can be a family member or someone the victim knows.
Sometimes, people use identity theft to try to abuse or control another person. Identity theft is common in domestic violence situations.
How Can Identity Theft Affect Me?
Identity theft can lead to you getting bills or collection letters for things you did not buy.
Identity theft can also hurt your credit score. This could make it harder for you to get credit. It could also lead to you paying higher interest rates.
But you can take steps to protect yourself. Read the next section to learn how.
How Do I Recover from Identity Theft?
Use the FTC’s Identity Theft Recovery Plan Tool
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a Recovery Plan tool to help people after identity theft. The Recovery Plan tool will ask you questions and help you report the identity theft. You will then get a personalized recovery plan. Go to the Identity Theft Recovery Plan tool.
If you don’t want to use the guided Recovery Plan tool, you can browse the list of recovery steps on your own. You can also call the FTC to report identity theft at 1-877-438-4338 (or 1-866-653-4261 for TTY users).
Follow the Steps to Protect Yourself
The Identity Theft Recovery Plan tool will give you personalized steps to follow. For example, the steps might include calling a credit card company and asking them to freeze your account. Follow the steps in your plan to stop the identity theft and protect yourself.
If you choose not to use the Recovery Plan tool, follow the recovery steps that apply to your situation.
Sending Letters to Companies, Debt Collectors or Credit Bureaus
One common recovery step is to send a letter to a company, debt collector, or credit bureau to tell them that someone stole your identity.
The easiest way to get any letters you need is to use the guided Recovery Plan tool. The guided tool will create these letters for you if needed. If you are browsing the recovery steps on your own, there are sample letters you can use to create your own letters.
At the bottom of each letter is a section called “Enclosures.” This section tells you what to include with the letter. Make sure you include everything listed under “Enclosures” when you send the letter.
How Can I Protect Myself in the Future?
You can act now to protect yourself in the future. For example, you can work on staying safer while you are online. To learn more, visit the Security Planner guide. The guide will ask you a few questions and then give you easy-to-use safety tips.
You can also get a free credit report each year and check it for incorrect information. To learn more go to Your Credit Report.