When it comes to identity theft, there’s a great deal of consumer confusion as to what function law enforcement plays in cleaning up your identity theft mess. “Should I file a police report?” is one of the more common questions our ITRC advisors’ field on a daily basis.

When it comes to reporting and recovering from identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working to simplify the process.

For years, identity theft victims have been encouraged to file a police report as soon as they discover they’ve been victimized. It wasn’t so much that the police were going to find your thief—but that it served as sworn proof that you claim to be innocent of the damage the thief did with your credit cards, identifying papers, and more. Filing a false police report is its own crime, so by seeking a police report, you were essentially saying, “I swear under oath that I’m not the one responsible for this mess.”

Unfortunately, with so many up-in-the-air variables about identity theft, many law enforcement departments were left scratching their heads. Where were they supposed to start looking if a “Nigerian prince” stole your money, or a phone scammer stole your credit card information? Too often, the police report ended up being nothing more than a piece of paper that you could hold up if someone accused you of a crime.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working to change that.

Now, instead of suggesting that all victims file a local police report, the agency runs IdentityTheft.gov, a one-stop-shopping method of getting the documentation you need to supply to different companies and organizations. Along with things like a personal recovery action plan, you’ll also receive pre-filled letters to give to your bank, credit card companies, utility companies, and more saving you some of a headache and legwork. You’ll also file an “Identity Theft Report,” which is your official statement about the crime.

This Identity Theft Report is not only legal and binding as your proof that you claim to be innocent of any damage, it’s filed automatically with the FTC, a federal law enforcement agency. However, there may be some circumstances where you’d still want to file a local police report; according to the FTC, those reasons may include:

– you know the identity thief, or have other information that could help a police investigation

– an identity thief used your name in a traffic stop or any encounter with police, or

– a creditor, debt collector, or someone else affected by the identity theft insists that you produce a police report.

If you have information that will help your local police department make an arrest, by all means, speak to that agency. Likewise, if your identity may have been supplied to police in an unrelated crime—such as someone is found with drugs in their car and supplies your name to the police—then you’ll certainly want to pay a visit to your local law enforcement office.

Remember, whether it’s filed through your local police department or the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov website, the purpose of the report is two-fold. It serves as your declaration that you are innocent if your identity is used illegally, and it helps begin the investigation. Clearing your name is never easy, but the FTC is working to streamline the process and reduce the amount of time it takes to recover.

If you have additional questions about the cleanup process, contact the ITRC toll-free at (888) 400-5530

For on-the-go assistance, download the free ID Theft Help App.