New Tool to Help Victims Recover From Identity Theft

Identity theftHand with black glove reaching for Social Security card and driver's license has become so prevalent that some regulators say it’s not a matter of if you’ll become a victim, but when.

Last year alone, the Federal Trade Commission received 490,000 complaints of identity theft from consumers, a 47 percent increase over the year before. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An estimated 17.6 million consumers’ identities were stolen in 2014, according to the Department of Justice.

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Recovering from this crime is often an arduous slog of getting documents, filing complaints with law enforcement and notifying financial institutions and credit reporting agencies.

“For many victims, it can take several months or even several years to overcome the financial as well as emotional toll,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at a recent news conference.

To speed up the recovery process, the FTC has updated its website, IdentityTheft.gov, with a new tool. It allows victims to describe what sort of data breach or identity theft has occurred, then creates a personal action plan for what they need to do to resolve the problem. The tool will then use that information to fill in forms and draft letters to submit when reporting the theft to the IRS, law enforcement, credit card companies, debt collectors and credit reporting companies.

For instance, if you are a victim of a data breach but aren’t sure yet whether someone has used your personal information, the tool will link you to your free annual credit report to see if there is any unauthorized activity and provides information on how to freeze your report so thieves can’t open new lines of credit under your name.

The FTC says the site is secure and does not ask for sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers. Consumers can fill in that information if necessary after printing out the forms.

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“Our hope is this is going to make it much easier for consumers to really start that … road to recovery,” Ramirez says. “To get a plan that is tailored to your own situation will be very helpful and could very much shorten the time it takes to recovery from ID theft.”

Photo: Duckycards/istock

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