Thanks to the support of donations to our non-profit organization, the Identity Theft Resource Center is able to offer 24-hour-a-day assistance to individuals who may be impacted by identity theft. This seven-day-a-week help is crucial to getting consumers the information they need to recover from this increasingly common crime.

While there are a lot of different types of identity theft—medical, tax, employment, social media, and many more—the overwhelming majority of calls to the ITRC help center were for financial identity theft, with 68.1% of all calls in 2014 having to do with someone’s financial identity being compromised.

What is financial identity theft? Unfortunately, it’s so common that most people already assume identity theft means “financial” identity theft. As the name implies, it happens when someone steals your personally identifiable information and uses it to establish new accounts or lines of credit, or simply uses your existing accounts, like credit

cards, PayPal, or your checking account. Financial identity theft can also result in the thief using your information to buy high-dollar items like a car, RV, or even a house. However the thief uses your data, the outcome is the same: you’re expected to pay the bills.

Of course, that’s where the ITRC comes in. With step-by-step information on recovering your identity and clearing up the financial mess the thief has made, you can begin the process of closing these accounts and getting back to normal.

Step 1: File a police report.

Even if the thief is someone you know, possibly even someone you’re related to. That is a surprisingly common situation, and while it doesn’t feel good to have to report a friend or family member to the authorities, it is the best first step towards recovering your financial identity and repairing your credit score. If you agree to “work something out” with this individual—which all too often, victims of ID theft are pressured to do by other family members—your credit score will still suffer from the high balances and high debt-to-income ratio on your report, and you will still have years ahead of you in which you have to remember to pay these bills each month. Don’t let others force you to make a decision that still causes you to take the blame.

Step 2: Place freezes and alerts on your credit report.

After having a copy of the police report in hand (which you’ll need in order to be able to submit copies of it where accounts were opened or your existing account was used), you’ll want to place freezes and alerts on your credit report. This is designed to stop anyone from being able to open a new account in your name without providing verified forms of identification. Remember, if you did legitimately need to open a new account after taking this step, you’ll have to allow time to “unfreeze” it, usually a matter of a few business days from the date you request it.

Step 3: Monitor credit reports.

Everyone should be monitoring their credit reports, but victims of identity theft are especially susceptible to further damage, so make sure you keep up with your credit scores and monitor your accounts closely for any suspicious activity. Write to each of the three credit reporting agencies for your once-a-year free copy of your credit reports.

The real work is in tracking down the extent of the damage and contacting the businesses where your identity was used. Remember to be calm and collected, even if you’re not feeling that way at the time; most credit-issuing businesses now have fraud departments who will help you with your case, and can help make this nightmare end sooner.

If you have questions about financial identity theft or think you might be a victim, please call one of our Victim Advisors toll-free at 888-400-5530. We’re ready to help!