Identity Theft Recovery: Steps to Take if Your Identity Is Stolen

Lyndon Seitz
October 31, 2023

Identity theft is a major problem worldwide and is only growing in popularity among criminals. 

There were more than 1.1 million identity theft cases last year in just the United States. This led to the loss of $43 billion in total.

If you’re reading this, you might be worried that you could be one of these cases, but you don’t have to be; you can mitigate losses and regain your identity. 

What Is Identity Theft?

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone steals your information and uses it to impersonate you, usually for monetary gain.

It could involve opening new accounts or credit cards, making purchases in your name, or similar actions.

The Consequences of Identity Theft

  • Naturally, there is money to be lost. Identity thieves might want to draw from your accounts directly after impersonating you. They could also just hope to leave you with the bill after taking out credit in your name. Either way, it can severely impact your financial health.
  • Dealing with identity theft can be a major headache and take up a lot of time. It is a deeply stressful situation. It is estimated that dealing with identity theft can take more than 100 hours.
  • Others around you and people you know may be affected by the incident. An identity thief might impersonate you to get information on your loved ones or steal from them.

What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen?

What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with identity theft right now. It’s ok, we’re here to help, and there are steps you can take. 

1. Try to Understand the Cause

By understanding the cause of the identity theft or how your information was stolen, you can narrow down the actions you must take to defend yourself.

Try to think if there is a direct link between something else that happened to you and the identity theft. Did anyone have access to your information who shouldn’t have? Was one of your accounts accessed?

Note that if you don’t know the cause, that’s ok (and common). There might have been a major data breach with a service you use, or your information might have been sitting on the dark web for a while.

2. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Accounts

A fraud alert tells your banks and accounts to watch extra carefully for suspicious activity on a given account. You can put one on with any major credit bureau and some banks or financial accounts.

Setting up a fraud alert will be a slightly different process for each account, though it is rarely difficult. You will want to contact customer support for each company or organization to do this.

3. Put a Credit Freeze in Place

A credit security freeze prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit report, meaning someone else can’t apply for credit in your name and succeed.

To put a credit freeze on your accounts, you must ask each major credit bureau for one. This can sound intimidating, but it’s a common thing and shouldn’t provide you with any trouble.

Note that it can be inconvenient if you need to apply for a loan or credit in the near future, but it isn’t nearly so inconvenient as the consequences of letting the identity theft go unchallenged.

4. Collect Evidence and Documentation

The more evidence you have of the identity theft, the better off you will be when talking to the authorities, stopping the identity theft/closing relevant accounts, and getting your life back in order.

Things to collect include:

  • Records of any transactions, account access attempts (successful or not), or changes made to accounts that you didn’t authorize.
  • Relevant financial records, including statements for the accounts, are opened without your permission if you have access to them.
    • If you don’t have them, you might be able to ask for them when you report the identity theft to those companies.
  • If merchandise was involved, having records of where it was shipped or purchased helps.
  • An FTC identity theft report (you can get this next section).

However, do not engage with the identity thief or put yourself or your information at risk in any way to get more information. There will be enough evidence in your statements, and your personal safety comes first.

5. Report the Identity Theft to the Authorities

  • You can report fraud and identity theft to the FTC, and they are interested in knowing about these things. This will help prevent there being more victims.
    • You may need to do this first or before other steps. 
  • You should also file a police report about the identity theft with your local police. You can call their non-emergency line or go to your local station.
    • If the identity theft was committed by someone close to you, then I understand that this step may be difficult, as it may lead to them facing criminal charges. But remember, they did commit a crime against you. You need to do this, and it is necessary to get your life back in order.
  • If other authorities or bodies are involved, you should also report it to them.
    • For example, you may report mail theft to the postal service.

Your reports may or may not lead somewhere, and you may or may not know if the culprit gets caught and charged. These crimes can be complicated. But you will be doing your part to help prevent identity theft in the future, and you will be putting on record that you authorize and approve of none of this.

6. Close Fraudulent Accounts and Reverse Charges

You can’t just let the identity thief keep getting away with it. 

Outside of reporting the theft (we’ll get to that in a minute), you need to close the fraudulently created accounts and stop any more damage or chaos from occurring.

At the same time, if existing accounts were hijacked or your credit card information was chosen, you need to dispute any problematic charges you see on your statements.

To do so, you’ll want to contact customer support (or a special line if it exists) for each account. You can look up the specific process for each company online or call for general help and work from there. You will want to have relevant information and paperwork on hand if it is available to you.

This can be time-consuming but work on it one account at a time unless you are waiting for something. Be sure to mention that identity theft was involved.

The above being said, try to do each closure quickly so the identity thief ideally doesn’t notice until you’re done. This will help prevent them from trying to hinder your efforts.

7. Report the Identity Theft to Relevant Companies

Now that you’ve talked to the authorities, you should start working on contacting relevant companies, explaining the situation, and reversing charges, etc., where necessary. Some common calls or messages to make are:

  • Your banks, if you haven’t already talked to them, put a fraud alert on your accounts. This is especially the case if money is removed due to identity theft. If you are timely, you might be able to get your money back.
  • Your credit card providers, if you haven’t talked to them about a freeze or fraud alert yet. You will also want to dispute fraudulent charges that you’ve marked down.
    • Most credit cards have strong protections against identity theft if you catch it in time. You’ll likely experience the easiest time here.
  • Other companies might have been involved in identity theft. Perhaps other credit lines were opened (or attempts were made). You’ll need to contact them to explain the situation and cancel anything that still needs cancellation.

You might have done much of this already as part of the last step, but consider this part your safety met for organizations that fell through the cracks.

8. Start Using an Identity Theft Monitoring/Protection Service

After making the calls and reporting the crime, you’ll want to start a system of looking out for further problems and breaches.

However, you don’t have to deal with identity theft alone, and you don’t need to watch for it constantly by yourself, either. In fact, I don’t recommend doing it yourself. You have other concerns, and you likely aren’t as good as the professionals when looking for signs of fraud.

For this, I recommend Aura to most people. It has a wide enough range of monitoring options, provides identity theft insurance, and is easy to work with. It can also help you resolve identity theft problems should they come up in the future.

9. Check Accounts and Reports for Activity

When you know you’re a victim of identity theft, you need to review and re-review your reports for charges, accounts, and requests that aren’t right. Now that you have stymied the tide, so to speak, you need to look for lingering problems.

If you’re using a service, you might receive reports that have done this for you. Review them. 

However, you may still want to review them personally. It will give you a better understanding of your credit, spending habits, and how these reports work. It will also give a personal peace of mind.

If you do find something? Take action, call the appropriate company, and try to have the activity removed from your account or reversed. 

10. Secure Your Accounts and Devices

While you might have stopped the identity theft and gotten things under control by now, your accounts and devices might still be vulnerable, leading to more problems. 

You need to secure your accounts, meaning changing passwords, minimizing remote access opportunities, and using extra security features as they are available. 

There will likely be specific instructions or pages on securing your accounts for each website or service provider, so follow those guides to start.

Similarly, you must ensure your devices are malware-free and no one has backdoor access to your account. A virus scan from a security or antivirus program will help, as will changing your passwords, as mentioned above. Log out and into your accounts and devices for good measure.

11. Reflect, Consider Your Security Habits, and Breathe

As we talked about device security in the last section, consider what security habits (or lack thereof) might have led to this breach. Did you share too much information? Did you fall for a phishing scam? It’s okay to make a mistake, but it’s vital that you understand it and make changes as needed.

Finally, breathe. Further mistakes can be caused by not realizing your emotions about the issue impacting your judgment. It’s time to move on with your life, for the most part, so treat yourself to something nice.

The critical steps are over, and now you just need to let your protection service do its thing and occasionally check on your accounts. It may appear again, but you will know how to react and what to do.

Important Notes When Dealing with this Process

  • Don’t rush this, and think through what you’re doing. Panicking will be counterproductive in the long run. There may also be times when you must wait for a response or results. This is normal. Work on the next step when this happens, if possible.
  • You may encounter resistance when reporting identity theft, with authorities or companies telling you it isn’t a real problem or that reporting wastes time. It isn’t, by default, and it would be a waste of time only if the people didn’t take it seriously. 
  • You won’t be done once you finish all the steps. Once your information is out on the internet (and there’s a good chance it is), you can become a victim again if you aren’t vigilant.
    • It could happen a week after you take care of things, a month, or even years later. That’s why getting a good protection service and checking your accounts regularly is important.
  • If you know the perpetrator, you might feel betrayed, enraged, and want to confront them personally. I understand your pain, but wait to confront them until you have your identity back, have reported the crime, and have all the necessary documentation. Give yourself time to process the issue, and don’t tell the perpetrator that you know what they did.
    • Related to this, if the perpetrator is a random person online, don’t try to track them down or find them out. Focus on getting your credit back and let law enforcement handle it.

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft

Getting your credit back in order after identity theft is good. Prevention is better. Yet what are the precautions you can take? 

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft

We’ve gone over a few already as part of our response advice, but here’s a list of the most helpful preventative measures:

  • Practice better cybersecurity habits and protect your online accounts and devices. Malware, public network usage, and compromised accounts cause identity theft.
    • Use strong passwords for your accounts and a password manager if you’re having trouble keeping track of them. Bitwarden and NordPass are good options there.
    • Use two-factor authentication or verification when it is available.
    • Use a VPN (I recommend Norton 360, ExpressVPN, or Surfshark) on public networks, or avoid using public networks. You might have one freely available but not realize it, so check with the online services you subscribe to.
    • Try to keep your personal information offline. Some information can be publicly available (your name, email address, and social media accounts). Still, others, such as your phone number and account numbers, should be harder, if not impossible, to find.
      • Think about what might be realistic to keep a secret.
  • Learn about common scams and types of fraud used to gain information for identity theft. We have many articles on these scams on our blog, and looking up common scams online will teach you about the ones to be concerned about.
  • Get a service such as Aura to help protect and watch your accounts. Many of these services also provide identity theft insurance and recovery services, making things much easier for you.
  • Try to make sure your documents and devices are safe. Often mail, wallets, or devices are stolen to gain information for identity theft, or it is a side effect of the theft.


Identity theft is a major crime affecting hundreds of thousands to millions of people yearly. You shouldn’t panic or blame yourself if you become a victim of this crime, but there are steps you need to take to resolve the issue. 

Go by the advice above, and you’ll minimize the damage and help prevent it from happening again. Take precautions, invest in protection services such as Aura to help you watch out for future problems, and learn more about the issue to watch for the signs. Come back to this page if you need to, and I hope you’ve taken care of identity theft for the long haul.