Editorial Policy

What to do when identity numbers are stolen

Erica Sandberg

April 11, 2014

QHi Erica,

What do I do if someone has stolen my Social Security number and my driver's license number? How do I prevent them from opening accounts in my name? –Caaron

ADear Caaron,

I wish I could tell you not to be concerned, but I can't. The good news is that you can protect yourself. Here is what you need to do. In most cases, it will be enough to thwart the commencement of destruction.Ask Erica

  1. File a police report. Report the crime to your local police department. Jot down the report number and get a copy sent to you.
  2. Contact TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. These are the three major credit bureaus, but you'll only need to contact one, and the others will be notified. For immediate triage, visit the website and add a 90-day fraud alert to your file. This will instruct lenders to verify your identity before issuing new credit requests or modifying existing accounts. Then, request an extended fraud alert, which remains in place for seven years. To place it, write to one of the bureaus; include a copy of the police report and your telephone number(s). Creditors will need to call you before adjusting any existing accounts or issuing new ones. For maximum protection, go for a total security block. Many states allow you to freeze your credit, and with it in place, lenders will not be able to access your credit file without asking you for your secret code. Detailed instructions are on the credit bureaus' websites. (Experian details states' rules. Go to the bottom of this page and select your state.)
  3. Notify your current creditors. The thief may also have your current credit card company information, and if so, might make unauthorized charges. Let your issuers know you've been a crime victim. They'll send you new cards with different numbers.
  4. Contact your state's driver's license office. Thieves can create “clone” licenses. Some hire illicit online companies to create new licenses with their photo and your information. For this reason, it is essential that you go to the state, report the crime, and get a new license with a different number.
  5. Monitor your credit reports. All consumers may receive free copies of their credit reports once a year, but fraud victims may pull additional reports, gratis. Go to annualcreditreport.com, and check every few months for at least a year. Read your reports carefully, and dispute anything suspicious.
  6. Consider ID theft protection. Independent companies such as LifeLock provide credit-monitoring services, and if you don't mind shelling out a few bucks a month, it can alleviate worry. You'll receive an alert as soon as something seems amiss. Check with your credit card company, too. Some have free monitoring systems for their customers. For example, Capital One just rolled out their new “Credit Tracker” program, which monitors TransUnion and sends out fraud alerts for free.
  7. Survey your Social Security statement. Compromised Social Security numbers can be tricky, as it's difficult to have fresh numbers issued. You need to review your Social Security statement regularly. Thankfully, you can do this online. If you do spot errors, contact the Social Security Administration, which will guide you toward resolution.

If this seems like a lot of work, you're right. It will take time and effort. But, trust me. Prevention is far easier than rectifying damage.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.