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5 steps to help you recover after identity theft

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ID fraud occurs quickly and almost always without warning. It can take months to recover from in normal circumstances, so it is important to know what is required in order to expedite the process.

If your identity has been stolen and your financial life severely impacted, here are five steps you should take to counter the event. 

The long-term effects of identity theft

Identity theft isn’t a flash-in-the-pan event that you forget after a few months. Its impact can last for months, if not years, and can cast a huge shadow across your life.

There is a psychological aspect to ID theft, one that can take its toll and leave you feeling at odds with everything you previously took for granted. Being victimised by criminals in this way can cause feelings of anxiety and violation. Sleep might also be affected - the Identity Theft Resource Center found that sleep disturbance affects 41% of identity theft victims.

Financial security fears, a sense of powerlessness, and suicidal feelings also occur among identity theft victims.

Of course, identity theft also impacts victims financially. You will almost certainly find yourself short of money for a time. Borrowing from family and friends, selling possessions to cover ID theft expenses, and even taking payday loans rarely makes you feel better. The added stress of borrowing can cause further psychological stress.

This can translate into physical illness, too. Victims of identity theft have reported everything from breathing difficulties, elevated blood pressure, and heart palpitations to fatigue, muscle aches, and nausea. Then there's the issue of anger (identifying a cause; over-analysing events) and even grief (of a loss of financial security, trust, and aspirations).

A timeline of identity theft recovery

Identity theft can rarely be recovered from quickly. It largely depends on the type of theft you have experienced. 

  • Credit card fraud: the time it takes you to discover and report the fraud is as long as you must wait in most cases. If you regularly check your credit card statements, or have alerts set up on your account, this should be no more than a month. Credit card companies will cover the stolen credit.
  • Full identity theft: with accounts opened in your name, it can take months to recover. It takes time to dispute fraudulent bank accounts, loans, and other identity theft. Proof is required that you did not set up the accounts. When tax debt is also incurred, as happens in some cases, or other crimes are committed in your name, undoing the damage can take years.

Unless you're extremely fortunate and detect the identity fraud early, you're likely to spend at least a year piecing together the effects of identity theft.

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How to recover from identity theft

So, how can you recover from identity theft and minimise the psychological impact 

1. Contact the fraud departments of the affected accounts

Once fraud is discovered and it is clear your identity was stolen, it is vital that you report the fraud. Speak to the fraud departments at the banks and credit card companies affected. If the fraud was car finance, or some other type of finance, speak to them too.

You should also record the theft with your local police force. All these things should be done within a day of discovering the fraud.

2. Check your statements and records

You need to know everything about your financial activity for the duration (and some time before) of the fraud. This means checking your statements and financial records in depth. Request statements that haven't been sent to you, too.

Try to cover everything, from banks, loan companies, and credit cards to online stores, PayPal accounts, everything.

Google Maps

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3. Detail your movements during the period of fraud

When it becomes apparent when the fraud took place, it's important that you take steps to record your activities to prove that you weren't spending the money. While fraud is common, it is sadly still important that victims prove their innocence. 

Use Google Maps to trace your activities. Find old receipts to prove where you were, perhaps your employer's clock-in data to show you were at work when a loan was taken out in a bank branch.

4. Get legal advice from a specialist in identity theft

With as much supporting data as possible, it is smart to contact a lawyer. Legal advice is important at this stage, as your bank will be interested in you as part of its fraud investigation.

However, don't just call the usual family lawyer. Instead, find someone who is versed in the issues of identity theft and subsequent fraud. They will be able to deal with your bank and any federal contact, helping to reduce personal stress. 

5. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC)

Free help is available from the ITRC, which can tell you almost everything you need to know about identity theft. They offer a help service and detailed steps about what you can do in the event of ID fraud. You'll find information about various scams, which can help you to identify exactly what happened to cause your ID to be stolen.

Meanwhile, the site also hosts various resources, facts, figures, and a regular newsletter.

Affected by ID theft in the UK? Contact the Action Fraud team.

Prevent future identity theft

You've overcome ID theft. You probably don't want to go through it all again. To prevent a repeat of the months-long recovery of your identity, financials, and perhaps even your sanity and health, take steps to secure your accounts.

Stop clicking on links in unsolicited emails from your bank, loan company, PayPal, Facebook, whatever. Learn to spot fake emails, change all of your passwords, employ tighter security steps (two-factor authentication, where a code is sent to your phone or email when you try to log into a bank account online, for example), and remain vigilant of the risks. Know and understand how it happened the first time to reduce the chances of a repeat occurrence.