Time is measured in many ways, and more often than not, we are left wanting more if it, begging for it to slow down, and in the end, wondering where it all went. But there are also those times when we can’t wait for it to speed up — like when we fall victim to identity theft.
That’s because it creates a problem that can’t be solved overnight or even in a few weeks. On average, it can take between 100 and 200 hours and six months to fix. But in some cases, it can take thousands of hours and years to resolve fully.Several key factors determine the length of the recovery process, but before we review those, let’s look at the steps involved in resolving identity theft.
Steps involved in resolving identity theft
One of the best ways to stop identity theft before it starts is to reduce the amount of data in your digital footprint. But if you’ve already been compromised, the following steps should serve as a good guideline for repairing your identity.
For more information, visit the FCC’s official “Recovering from Identity Theft” page.
Step 1: Request a fraud alert
The first step in your recovery process is to call each of the major credit bureaus and request a fraud alert. This will make it much harder for thieves to open new lines of credit in your name. There are different types of fraud alerts, and each serves a unique purpose:
- Initial fraud alert — Use this alert, which lasts 90 days, if you have reason to believe someone stole your identity
- Extended fraud alert — Use this alert, which lasts seven years, if you are certain your identity was stolen
- Active duty alert — Use this alert, which lasts up to one year, if you are in the military and deployed
Step 2: Review your credit reports and note all fraudulent accounts
Reach out to Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian and explain that you have been a victim of identity theft and you need copies of your credit reports immediately. When you receive your reports, print them out for safekeeping and review them thoroughly for any inaccuracy. Note any fraudulent data and compile a list of all businesses you need to contact. You will also need to send letters to each bureau requesting they remove fraudulent accounts from your credit report.
Step 3: Contact all of the companies where you know fraud happened
Contact each company for every account you don’t recognize and explain that you are the victim of identity theft. Request that they freeze or close all accounts the thief opened or exploited. If fraud occurred at a company you do business with, immediately update your security settings and change your PIN.
Step 4: Create an official Identity Theft Report
The next step is to file an official report at IdentityTheft.gov. This is a great resource for both reporting the crime as well as receiving step-by-step advice on how to handle your recovery. They will even provide you with official letters and documents you can use in your correspondence with credit bureaus and businesses.
Factors that determine how long it takes to repair your identity
Although cases of identity theft will be unique to each victim’s circumstances, three key factors impact how long the path to recovery might take:
How long identity theft went undetected
One of the most significant factors that contribute to how long it takes to correct identity theft problems is the amount of time the crime goes undetected. When identity theft is undetected for long periods of time, the correction process will likely be an extended one. Since thieves know the personal data they collected is accurate, they will continue to exploit the victim’s identity until they no longer can.
Being able to use stolen data for extended periods of time is one of the reasons identity thieves often target children. In addition to generally having clean credit, children don’t usually apply for credit until college or to purchase a car, meaning the crime can go undetected for years.
How was your personal data used?
Another contributing factor to how long it will take to restore a stolen identity is determining how the stolen data was used. Here are some critical questions to answer:
• Was your data used by the thief who took it, or has it been sold on the dark web?
◦ If your data was circulated on the dark web, it could be sold over and over again
• Was the thief apprehended?
◦ An arrest could temporarily put a stop to your problems, but you’ll still want to keep a close eye on your credit
• Did the identity thief use your personal information to get medical care?
◦ When thieves get medical care under your name, their medical conditions and history can become mixed in with yours, creating significant problems when you’re seeking treatment
Are you restoring your identity yourself?
One of the most important determining factors in how long it takes to restore your identity is whether or not you are receiving assistance in doing so. Working with specialists can make a tremendous difference.
The research. The phone calls. Juggling your work schedule. Not only is the DIY approach time consuming, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. This is why we recommend working with a company that specializes in identity and privacy protection. They know the world of identity theft inside and out, and they’ll also be able to assist you with some of the most tedious tasks.
Regardless of how you choose to monitor and protect your identity, the most important part is to be vigilant. If it’s been awhile since you last checked your credit report, take the time to request copies from each credit bureau now.