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If Your Identity is Stolen

(Stop the Damage)

Whether your ATM card is taken out of your pocket or your Social Security number is used to file a tax return, identity theft can leave you feeling rattled and vulnerable. But you are not alone. Consumers made nearly 2.7 million reports of fraud, scams and identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2017.

The elderly often are targeted, but this report shows people in their 20s are twice as likely as people over 70 to lose money to fraud. Identity theft is on the rise, but there are steps you can take to limit the damage.

If your identity has been stolen, create a personalized recovery plan. The exact steps you take will depend on how your information was compromised.


First, the good news: If you report a stolen card or account number before fraudulent charges are made, you won’t pay a dime. Even if a thief charges thousands of dollars, if they don’t have the actual card, you are responsible for only $50.

It gets trickier if your ATM or debit card are stolen, because cash from your account is harder to replace. If you report the fraudulent charges within 2 business days, you’re still only liable for the $50 limit. If you report the theft more than 2 days after the theft, but less than 60 days after you receive your statement, you are responsible for up to $500. If you don’t report it for more than 60 days after your statement is sent, you will lose all the money taken out of your ATM/debit account.

If your card or account number is stolen, contact the card issuer right away. The sooner you report it, the better. Some homeowners or renters insurance policies cover card thefts. If you don’t have this already, consider updating your policy.


Sixty-four percent of Americans report being victims of a data breach. It might seem like data breaches are so common that you should just give up trying to protect yourself, but thieves look for easy targets. If you do nothing, you’re more likely to leave yourself open to other damage. has detailed information and steps you can take to resolve issues from recent data breaches, including:

  • MyFitnessPal (March 2018)
  • Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks OFF 5th (April 2018)
  • Equifax (2017)
  • Yahoo (Sept. 2016)

Many large companies, schools and government organizations offer free identity theft protection after a breach. If you received notification that your information was compromised, research the services offered, but also beware of scammers. Sometimes thieves will pose as legitimate companies to try to get your information. Only go through verified websites and customer service numbers.


Freezing your credit prevents anyone from getting loans or opening new credit accounts in your name. You’ll have to place the freeze with all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), which costs up to $10 at each. Of course, a credit freeze also means that you won’t be able to get loans or new credit either, until you lift the freeze, which can cost another $12 per bureau.


If you don’t want to completely freeze your credit, you can place a fraud alert. This allows potential creditors to access your credit report, but requires that they verify your identity (for example, by calling your mobile number) before opening new accounts. This doesn’t protect against thieves using your existing account numbers.

Credit monitoring is when you hire a third-party to watch your credit report and known identity theft sites to spot any unusual activity. There are free as well as paid credit monitoring services available. But even this is not a fail-safe solution and it might have unintended consequences. For example, after the data breach at Equifax, the company offered a year of free credit monitoring to those affected. However, some industry experts warned that agreeing to this service would limit your ability to join any class action lawsuits against Equifax in the future.


Cybercrime doesn’t just affect big companies. You could find yourself targeted by ransomware, which is when thieves infect your computer or phone through malicious links in online ads or email links and attachments and then hold your files for ransom. If you’re hit with a scam, don’t give in to the pressure to act right away. Do some research at sites like and

Identity theft isn’t fun, but it’s a reality that we will be dealing with for many years to come. Watch your accounts and take precautions to keep yourself safe, but don’t worry too much about it. No matter how bad the damage is, you can recover.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]