Skip to content
  • Print

Recovering Your Identity

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation - and it can take time, money, and patience to resolve. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, has prepared some information to help reduce the risk of identity theft or to help repair damage cause by identity thieves.

If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, acting quickly is the best way to limit the damage. Setting things straight will involve some work.  The topic links below and to the left and downloadable document links to the right should help you get underway.  They cover:

  • What identity theft victims must do immediately
  • What problems may crop over now and in the coming months or years
  • How you can reduce your risk of identity theft


"I thought I kept my personal information to myself."

You may have.  The truth, however, is that thieves are incredibly resourceful and use a variety of ways to get your information. Following is a condensed listing of some of the tools, tricks or tactics employed by some identity thieves.

  1. Finding personal information you share on the Internet.

  2. "Dumpster diving" or going through your trash looking for personal information.

  3. Stealing your mail.

  4. Stealing your wallet or purse.

  5. Stealing your debit or credit card numbers through "skimming," using a data storage device to capture the information at an ATM or during an actual purchase.

  6. "Phishing," a scam in which the identity thief sends an email falsely claiming to be from a legitimate organization, government agency or bank to lure the victim into surrendering personal information such as a bank account number, credit card number or passwords. Often the email will send you to a phony or spoof website that looks just like the real business or government agency - only an expert can tell the difference.

  7. Obtaining your credit report through posing as your employer or landlord.

  8. "Business record theft" involves the theft of files, hacking into electronic files or bribing an employee for access to files at a business.

  9. Going through the trash of a business to get employee records, customer information and register receipts.

  10. Diverting your mail to another location by filling out a "change of address" form.

"What should I do of my information is lost or stolen, but my accounts don't show any problems?"

If your wallet, Social Security Card, or other personal, financial, or account information is lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit file. Continue to check your bank and other account statements looking for new unexpected or unusual activity. You may want to take additional steps depending on what type of information you believe may have been compromised. For example, you can exercise your legal right to a free copy of your credit report.

If you have been informed that your personal information has been compromised as a result of a data breach, the organization that lost your information will notify you and tell you about your rights and services they are offering to limit damage to your identity. In addition to options just discussed, you may be eligible for free active credit monitoring/protection and repair services for a defined period of time. It is also helpful to be aware of privacy laws in your state as they may provide you with more protections by law.