There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: A stolen identity creates a mess. Once they have a few key pieces of personally identifiable information (PII), an identity thief can open new credit lines, create convincing new identities, and ruin an innocent person’s good credit.
If you suspect you’ve been affected by identity theft, acting quickly is key to stopping the thief and repairing the damage. Here are the definitive five steps of identity remediation, or the process of restoring and protecting the privacy of your identity.
1. Freeze Your Credit
With a stolen identity in hand, thieves can open new lines of credit or apply for large loans using someone else’s excellent credit score for leverage. If undetected, fraudsters can run up huge bills, never pay them, and in turn, ruin the credit score that you spent years perfecting. When you suspect or confirm that your identity has been compromised and you’re in the United States, alert the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Freezing your credit means that no one (not even you) can open a new credit card or bank account. This prevents criminals from misusing your identity. Initiating a credit freeze is free and it doesn’t affect your credit score.
2. File a Report
Once you suspect a criminal has stolen your identity, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Its official identity theft website includes a form for you to detail the circumstances. From there, the FTC will investigate.
It’s important to file a report because law enforcement can get involved and hopefully stop the criminal from striking again. Also, an official document from law enforcement or the FTC may help your bank and the credit bureaus resolve the damage.
3. Change Your Passwords and Credit Cards
Whenever a company with which you have an account is breached, the first step you should take is to quickly change your password. The same goes for when your identity is compromised with the added step of getting in touch with your banks and asking their fraud department to issue you new credit and debit cards and put them on alert for possible suspicious charges.
Having unique passwords for all your accounts is crucial to keeping them secure. For instance, if one of your accounts is breached and a cybercriminal lifts that username and password combination, they may then attempt to use it on other sites. To ensure you have strong passwords and passphrases for every site, consider using password manager software. Password managers are incredibly secure and make it so you only have to remember one password ever again.
4. Collaborate With Credit Bureaus
In addition to freezing your credit, you may have to sync up with each bureau to remedy any damage the identity thief may have done to your credit. Each bureau’s fraud department is very familiar with these scenarios, so their customer service department is experienced and more than willing to help you work through it.
5. Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
Once you’ve cleaned up the immediate mess made by an identity thief, it’s important to continuously monitor your identity in case the thief is biding their time or pieces of your PII are still circulating on the dark web. Plus, the headache of one compromised identity incident is enough for someone to never want it to happen again. Identity monitoring is a very thorough process that will give you peace of mind that you’ll be protected and can enjoy your online life safely.
How McAfee Makes Identity Remediation Less of a Headache
These five steps, while important, can be tedious. It may require a lot of patience to sit on hold and sift through all the relevant forms. Luckily, McAfee is an excellent partner who can help you with all your identity remediation needs with just one service: McAfee+ Ultimate. For example, security freeze is an easy way to put a halt on your credit. McAfee’s identity monitoring service monitors up to 60 unique types of personal details. If your PII appears on the dark web, Personal Data Cleanup can remove it.
Recover and move forward confidently after an identity theft with McAfee by your side.