Identity theft is a scary idea. It’s frightening to know that someone is “out there,” pretending to be you, racking up bills in your name, committing crimes and telling the authorities they’re you, or worse. It’s enough to make you lose sleep at night before it even happens, and the reality after the fact can be equally frightening.
Fortunately, we are here to help—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to donations from our wonderful supporters—with free resources and information to get you started clearing up the problem.
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you unravel the crime of identity theft is to use the most
effective communication tools you can. You will potentially be speaking with dozens of people before the issue is fully resolved, and the frustration of having to repeat yourself and of having to waste your valuable time to clear up someone else’s criminal mess can keep you from being helped if you’re not communicating well.
- Organize Your Thoughts. The first thing to do before reaching out to anyone is to think through what has happened. What do you already know? How far has the damage spread? What steps have you already taken? By knowing these answers, you can begin to form a clear picture of the problem. The ITRC offers step-by-step Fact Sheets on what you need to do and in what order, but you can’t begin to help yourself if your interactions are based on desperation, hurt, and anger at being a victim. Take a moment to breathe, and then begin to make the calls.
- Have Your Police Report Handy. Having all of this information in hand before making calls is an important step. The representative on the phone is in charge of making sure your account is paid, so it might take some time to explain your situation. The rep might even try to suggest that you just “go ahead and pay it,” then try to recover the funds later. Do not do this, of course, but also don’t get angry with the representative. It’s his job to get the account paid, and becoming upset or rude will not make him more understanding of your situation.
- Find the Correct Contact. It’s also necessary to remember that the first contact you have within a company is not usually the person who can address ID theft and resolve it. Start out by stating up front that you are calling because a fraudulent account has been opened in your name, and you need to speak with someone who can help you. If you start off with your lengthy description of what happened only to have the representative say, “I have to put you on hold and transfer you to another department,” you’re not only going to waste time repeating yourself, you’re going to get pretty frustrated with the process.
There’s an age-old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and it’s one hundred percent true. Keep in mind that the people you must interact with to resolve an identity theft case are NOT the ones who stole your identity, even if it feels like they’re not being as helpful as they could be. If you’re respectful and kind while still standing up for yourself, you’ll create allies instead of antagonism. Remember that this process can be a long one, so start off with the mindset of patience and kindness, but don’t let anyone push you into not resolving the matter.
For more helpful tips, check out the ITRC Fact Sheet on Effective Communication.