Identity Stolen? Essential Steps to Recover and Protect Yourself

Without going into too much detail, last year I had my identity stolen in a data breach on— I wasn’t aware of this until one day I got a letter from the DPS office in Austin that my driver's license was updated to an out of state address and sent there.  

Earlier, I did receive a letter about the breach, but it didn’t feel particularly urgent because, like nearly everyone else with even a passing acquaintance with the internet, I have received similar notices in the past and suffered no consequences. In short, I felt no immediate need for action.  

I mean, what are you supposed to do when you’re notified that your information MAY have been compromised?  What is someone going to do with my email or my address? 

While I was waiting for my appointment at the DPS to get a new, corrected driver’s license issued - I had money stolen out of a bank account and I realized that this was an active situation.  

It took multiple phone calls and many website visits to resolve my emergency situation. Many of the things I did can be put in place to possibly prevent future attempts and additional information from being leaked.  Here are the steps I took to resolve my identity theft issues and what I learned along the way. 

Report active cases to the police

If you have an active case of identity theft, meaning that the thieves are applying for credit cards in your name or withdrawing money from your bank account, you should call your local police department's non-emergency line and report the crime to the white-collar or digital crime division. It will help to have a documented case number that you can refer to in all future claims. The detective I spoke with was also kind enough to print out template letters to send to companies notifying them of my identity theft in a variety of scenarios.  

Create accounts with the 'Big Three' Credit Bureaus

Next, I went to each of the three major credit bureaus and opened accounts.  This allowed me to stop all credit inquiries and to report any false ones initiated by the identity thieves.

The accounts you set up may be a separate login from the ones that you may already have to your free annual credit report. Just remember that the new accounts are a free service. The websites may try to get you to upgrade to one of their paid services. You do NOT need to. You do not have to pay for managing your credit report.  

Helpful Links - The 'Big Three' Credit Bureaus: Equifax | Experian | Transunion.

Credit Monitoring & Identity Protection Services

Afterward, I signed up with a credit monitoring/identity protection service. I went with one that was discounted through my Costco membership. It’s the only service I paid for to get through this ordeal, and, in my opinion, it’s worth purchasing a similar service if your case is active. My monitoring service even had a real-life human I could talk to who gave me advice on how to proceed.  

Once you sign up for this type of service, you may be overwhelmed with information, which could spur a whole other list of things to do. For me, it triggered me to make a new unattached secret email that does not use my name and will not be used for any commercial use, such as shopping or service sites. I use the new email only for banking and other highly sensitive accounts.

Make an account with the Social Security Administration and Other Government Agencies

The next step is to establish your account information for future monitoring with the Social Security Administration. IRS  and FTC (Federal Trade Commission) — you may not have to do this, but because my identity theft involved a real, valid piece of identification issued by a state agency, I was advised to do this and put alerts on my accounts.  

Helpful Links: Social Security Administration (SSA) | Internal Revenue Service (IRS) | Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

You have to be thorough: More steps you might need to take

If it’s not an active case, but you’re seeing funny activity in your email or text messages, I think the credit monitoring service and new email should be enough and from whatever your report exposes, you will have a whole new list of to-dos, that will vary depending on what the report pulls. Your phone will be compromised; If it is, you need to factory reset it to get rid of malware installed by the identity thieves. 

Because money had been withdrawn from my account, I also visited a bank branch in person to speak with a banker to close my accounts, reroute new accounts, and get new card numbers. Having the police report handy while working with the bank helped a lot. The bank returned the stolen cash a few days later.

Final Thoughts

Each of these steps can be a headache. It took a few days to clear everything up and even more time to feel less vulnerable. My advice is to take it one step at a time. Please keep in mind that your journey to protecting yourself and recovering from identity theft could be different from mine, but if you reach out and establish your accounts with the correct sites, you should be able to monitor, manage, and dispute any false activity. 

Careful internet-ing out there!

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