A College Student’s Guide on What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen
Learning you’re a victim of identity theft may be one of the few things worse than walking into a final exam for which you’re not prepared. That doesn’t mean you, as a student identity theft victim, have to go it alone. We’re here with some identity theft help—a simple guide you can use to figure out what to do if your identity is stolen.
As you move forward, you’ll need to:
- Determine the type of identity theft of which you’re a victim
- Learn whether you should file a police report
- Consider notifying the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Assess the need for fraud alerts on your credit files
- Consider regular reviews of your credit reports
As you can see, there can be a lot involved. Before diving in too deeply, let’s start with the basics.
Intro to identity theft
Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personally identifiable information (PII)—such as your name, Social Security number or address—so that they can take over your accounts, file fraudulent tax returns, or even obtain medical treatment in your name.
If you discover you’re a victim of identity theft, you have some work to do. Otherwise, you may be turned down for loans—student and otherwise—apartment rentals, credit cards and other financial accounts, and even jobs. The sooner you start the restoration process, the sooner you can possibly thwart the thieves from doing even more damage to your good name.
Undoing the effects of identity theft isn’t the easiest assignment you’ll ever have, but it could be one of the most important in terms of your personal finances and your economic future—particularly if the thieves’ actions have had a negative impact on your credit history and credit score. Who do you call for identity theft assistance? It could be a credit bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or some other entity. Read on to learn more.
Where do you start?
Where you start depends, in part, on where the identity thief began. Did the thief put their hands on your credit card number and make a fraudulent purchase? Or did the thief use your name and Social Security number to take out a loan in your name? The more complicated the issue, the bigger the challenge of remediation could be.
How do you find out if you’re a victim of identity theft? It depends on the type. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the main kinds of identity theft and what to do for each if you’re a victim.
Regardless of what kind of identity theft you face, time is of the essence. The sooner you take steps to stop the crime—if it’s continuing—and repair any damage, the better. You certainly don’t want the thief to keep doing harm, and you want to minimize the overall impact on your life, financial and otherwise.
What do you do if you become a victim of identity theft?
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the types of identity theft and what you can do about each. There are several categories of identity theft, and each requires different steps to remediate.
Financial identity theft
Credit card fraud is one type of financial identity theft. That is, someone using your credit card number to make a fraudulent purchase. Fortunately, if this happened to you, you’re probably in good shape. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, the liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is no more than $50. It’s worth noting, though, that your liability for the fraudulent use of your ATM or debit card is different. If you report your debit card missing before someone uses it, you won’t be held responsible for any fraudulent transactions. But if you wait more than 60 days after your next statement is sent to you, your maximum loss could be all the money taken from your ATM/debit card account and possibly more. It is for this reason you want to move as quickly as possible to contact your financial institution as soon as you’re aware that you’ve lost your card or that someone is making fraudulent transactions using your card number.
Financial identity theft can also involve criminals using account passwords, Social Security numbers, and other PII to steal your financial identity. They can open accounts in your name and even remove money from existing accounts. If you learn that you’re a victim of these kinds of financial identity theft, here are some steps to consider:
- Contact the financial institutions or companies where you suspect identity theft occurred. Explain what happened. Ask that accounts opened in your name or taken over be closed.
- Obtain credit reports from the three largest credit reporting agencies. Reviewing these reports will help you determine how bad the situation is.
- Equifax: 800-525-6285 or Equifax.com
- Experian: 888-397-3742 or Experian.com
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289 or TransUnion.com
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit files by contacting one of the three credit reporting agencies and asking them to notify the other two. The initial report will last 90 days, and you’ll have to call to renew it. It may be extended to seven years when you write the agency and send a copy of your police report, verifying you as a victim of identity theft.
- File a police report—you’re a victim of a crime.
- File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-438-4338 or completing the form on the FTC website.
For more information on how to move forward as a victim of financial identity theft, visit the websites for the Identity Theft Resource Center and the Federal Trade Commission. Both offer helpful and detailed information to help you navigate your situation.
Medical identity theft
As a victim of medical identity theft, you could face both financial and, perhaps more importantly, health risks. When an identity thief uses your personal information to obtain medical treatment, your healthcare data could become mixed up with the thief’s. That means, on a future doctor visit, your treatment may be based on the thief’s health information. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry warns, “When someone records incorrect information in a patient’s medical records or creates fictitious records in a patient’s name, the patient can suffer real harm.”
Given the possible impact to your treatment and overall health, you should move quickly to address a case of medical identity theft against you. If you’re a victim, the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center offers several recommendations, including:
- Obtain copies of your medical records from providers where your identity may have been used fraudulently.
- Ask your healthcare providers for a list of those to whom they’ve given your protected health information. The data your original providers have given to others may contain the same errors. The original providers are supposed to notify the others of any mistakes, but you may want to check with those secondary providers to confirm.
- Contact any medical facility seeking payment for services you didn’t receive. Explain that this is a case of identity theft or mistaken identity. Ask what proof they have that the person who received treatment is you. And ask what service was provided. Perhaps you can prove you didn’t receive it.
- As the victim of a crime, you should also file a police report in your local jurisdiction.
Governmental identity theft
If your Social Security number and other personal information are used to file a fraudulent tax return, you’re a victim of governmental identity theft. More specifically, this crime is known as tax-related identity theft. Identity thieves often file such bogus tax returns, hoping to receive a refund to which they’re not entitled.
If you file your legitimate tax return after the thief files a fraudulent one, the Internal Revenue Service will likely inform you that a return has already been filed using your Social Security number. You’ll then have to work with the IRS to sort out the situation, possibly delaying any return that you have coming. The IRS says a typical case can take about 120 days to resolve.
The IRS advises victims of tax-related identity theft to follow the FTC’s recommendations for identity theft victims, which include filing a report with your local police department and a complaint with the FTC. Also, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place a “fraud alert” on your credit report, making it more difficult for criminals to open accounts in your name. And ask the agency you call to notify the other two.
Equifax: 800-525-6285 or Equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742 or Experian.com
TransUnion: 800-680-7289 or TransUnion.com
The IRS also advises these additional steps:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice.
- Complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. You’ll find the IRS form here.
- Pay your taxes and file your return, even if you must do so by paper.
Another type of governmental identity theft, employment fraud, involves someone using your Social Security number to obtain employment. You may have discovered you’re a victim by seeing income that’s not yours on your annual Social Security Statement, available at ssa.gov/.
If you’re a victim of employment fraud, the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends that you file a police report and then call the Social Security Administration (SSA) in your area to explain the situation and let them know you’ve filed a police report. The SSA has forms you can complete to help correct the fraudulent activity that’s now part of your employment identity. In addition, since your payroll taxes will have been affected, you’ll need to inform the IRS and your state’s internal revenue department if your state has an income tax of its own.
The Identity Theft Resource Center also advises employment fraud victims to review your credit reports for fraudulent activity. To do so, you can contact the credit reporting agencies noted above to obtain free reports—one per year from each of the three main credit agencies—at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Criminal identity theft
A somewhat rare, but serious form of identity theft is criminal identity theft. If you’re a victim, it typically means someone said they were you when cited or arrested for a crime. The perpetrator may have provided a photo ID—real or counterfeit—or simply information that links to you, such as your name and your driver’s license number or Social Security number.
Let’s say, as a result of the crime for which he presented your information, the identity thief is supposed to show up in court, but doesn’t. Authorities may issue an arrest warrant—but it will be in your name!
If you learn that you’re a victim of criminal identity theft, you may need to contact two law enforcement agencies—your local one and the arresting agency. You may also want to ask your local agency to take your fingerprints and share them with the arresting agency to prove you’re not the criminal. Additional information on this crime and what to do if your identity is stolen is available from the Identity Theft Resource Center.
A Teacher's Guide on What to Do If a Student Becomes a Victim of Identity Theft
As a teacher, you may find yourself in a position to help a student victim of identity theft. By reviewing the various types of identity theft discussed above, you may familiarize yourself with key identity theft categories and the organizations, companies or agencies that can provide assistance.
A young student, particularly one who’s not familiar with the entities referenced here, may feel overwhelmed by the information provided. By helping the student reduce the information here and available at the various links to a series of step-by-step instructions, you may be able to ease their concerns.
Here’s a sample checklist to help:
- Determine the kind of identity theft of which the student is a victim.
- Identify, based on the identity theft type, the key entities the student should contact (i.e., the FTC, the local police department, one or all three of the major credit reporting agencies, etc.).
- If the student still receives parental financial support, have him or her contact them to determine if they have identity theft protection services or insurance that may be helpful in this situation.
- Suggest that the student keep a log of who was contacted, date and time, and what happened.
- Check in with the student on a regular basis to ensure progress continues.
A Campus Police Officer's Guide on What to Do When Encountering an Identity Theft Victim
As a college or university law enforcement official, it’s possible that a student will contact you when victimized by identity theft. Often, the student will have been advised, as the victim of a crime, to fill out a police report before taking other steps to help remediate the situation.
If you’re not familiar with identity theft, please point the student to the correct officer within your agency. This checklist may help you provide guidance and support to the student:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is where students can notify the government of the crime. The FTC does not have criminal jurisdiction, but it supports the criminal investigation and prosecution through its Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse—the nation's repository for identity theft complaints.
- Depending upon the type of identity theft, the student may want to call or visit the websites of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to determine how a fraud alert on their credit files may help protect them from some kinds of identity theft.
- At AnnualCreditReport.com, the student can obtain a free copy of their credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies once a year.
- If the student has suffered a fraudulent transaction on a credit or ATM/debit card, the financial institution should be notified as quickly as possible.
- To help protect their personal information going forward, you may want to advise the student to:
- Put a passcode on smartphones, computers and other electronic devices
- Never share account passwords with friends or roommates
- Lock dorm room or apartment doors when not at home
- Keep bank statements and other important documents in a secure place and shred before discarding
- Keep their passport and Social Security card in a secure place
- Keep close track of credit and ATM/debit cards and never share PINs
As a law enforcement officer, you may learn more about identity theft through FBI-LEEDA identity theft training sessions. The organization schedules these sessions in partnership with local law enforcement agencies across the country. You’ll find a list of upcoming sessions on the FBI-LEEDA website.
If you want to learn more about this issue and how to help protect yourself, check out our other articles on a variety of identity theft topics.
Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.