Identity theft can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years to repair. But it can feel like a lifetime.
Repairing the damage done by identity theft can be time consuming, expensive and emotionally draining ordeal for a victim who's already reeling from the feeling of personal violation.
The surest sign that crook has stolen your personal information is when bills start coming for things you haven't bough or when lenders deny you credit for reasons you don't understand. The worst case scenario is when a victim ends up flat broke or in jail for crimes he didn't commit.
Millions of people have become victims of identity theft in the past few years, and the recovery process, on average, takes about 500 hours and costs about $3,000.
The key to recovery is to stop and deal with the damage right away. There are a few basic steps you should take to get your life back on track.
• Notify creditors that the account is fraudulent and that you are a victim of identity theft.
• File a police report.
• Place a 90-day fraud alert on credit bureau files.
• Obtain all three credit reports and review them for fraudulent accounts, inquiries and personal information.
• Complete an ID theft affidavit.
• Submit the police report and affidavit to creditors.
• Request that they investigate, clear the account, send a letter of resolution for the victim's record and notify the credit bureaus to expunge the account and any inquiries from linked files.
• Follow up with creditors and credit bureaus until complete.
• Place an extended seven-year alert or freeze on all three credit bureau files to protect against future ID theft attempts.
To protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, make sure to protect your personal information. Don't carry you Social Security card in your wallet. Don't give out your personal information, including your SSN, and banking and credit card numbers.
Make sure to shred any documents that contain your personal information before you dispose of them.
You should also protect your personal information on your computer. Use strong passwords, and install a firewall, as well as virus and spyware protection software.