You are here

Privacy and Identity Theft

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed February 2021

If someone uses your personal information without your permission, they are committing a crime. The crime is Identity Theft.

Someone stole my identity. What should I do?

Change your account information

If you think someone has your bank or credit card number, ask your bank or credit card company to:

  • Close your account and give you a new account number.
  • Change the 4-digit Personal Identification Number (PINs) for your debit and credit cards.  And,
  • Reset your account passwords and security questions.

Report the identity theft to

Get copies of your credit reports and freeze or put a fraud alert on your accounts

Call the 3 major credit reporting agencies and ask for the fraud department. Ask them to:

  • Either freeze your account or put a fraud alert on your account.  If you want a fraud alert, you only have to ask one agency. They will tell the other agencies.
    • If you freeze your account no one can get your report without you first calling the agency and giving them your PIN number.
    • If you put a fraud alert on your account they will tell creditors to call you before they open a new account. And
  • Send you a copy of your credit report.

Dispute accounts you did not open and charges you did not make

An account you did not open

Write a letter to the:

  • Company. Tell them to close the account. Say you did not open it. Say it is "fraudulent".
  • Credit bureau that lists the fraudulent account. Say you did not open the account. Ask to block or dispute the account. Send any proof you have like:
    • A copy of your police reports for identity theft.
    • A copy of your FTC identity theft report.

The credit bureau should investigate and remove the account within 30 days. If they do not, find a lawyer.

Charges you did not make

If the charge could have been a mistake

If you get an extra charge from a business where you know you used your card, ask them to remove the charge. 

If they do not remove the charge, write to your bank or credit card company.

If the charge is from a business, you do not know

Write your credit card company within 60 days for seeing the fraudulent charge. Tell them you dispute the charge and ask them to remove it.  Many credit card companies also have an online form you can use to dispute charges. Check your credit card company's website.  They will ask you and the business to send proof about the charge.

If the credit card company sides with the business, you can:

See the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's How to Handle Identity Theft handout.

How can I prevent identity theft?

Keep your personal information secure

You can do many things to keep your personal information secure. Keep your passwords safe, learn to encrypt your data, and do not overshare on social media. See the FTC’s article Keeping your personal information secure.

Think about an identity theft protection service

You can buy or get low-cost or free help to stop identity theft.  See the FTC's Identity Theft Protection Services.

Think about getting fraud alerts.

A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. You can ask 1 credit bureau to set up fraud alerts. They will tell the other 2 credit bureaus to put the alert on your accounts there too. The alert lasts one year.  See the FTC’s article on Putting fraud alerts on your account.

Look for Warning Signs of Identity Theft

You may be the victim of identity theft if you:

  • See credit or debit charges you do not recognize,
  • Get bills for accounts you did not open,
  • Get notices of unemployment insurance you did not apply for, or
  • Get IRS notices that say you filed 2 or more tax returns.

See the FTC’s article on Warning Signs of Identity Theft.

Freeze your credit

Freezing your credit stops people from opening new accounts in your name.  Sometimes, it can also stop people from getting into your accounts or getting your credit report without your permission. See the FTC’s Credit Freeze FAQs.

Learn more

Download an article for older Americans from the National Consumer Law Center about Protect Yourself from Identity Theft.

Watch videos about avoiding scams, keeping your computer safe, and protecting kids online. See OnGuard Online.gov

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm