There are a few different things you can do when you think your identity has been stolen. If the first thing you notice is a strange item showing up on your credit card statement, you should immediately call your credit card company and report the suspect charges. Usually, the phone number is on the back of your card, but if not, you can easily find it online.

If your card was lost or stolen, you should also call your credit card company. Ask them to change your card number but leave the account open. This way the thieves cannot use your card fraudulently, but you don’t have the damaging effects of closing an account on your credit score. This goes without saying, but call as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you will become liable for the charges. Plus, the thief may keep charging in the meantime.

Take it to the cops. Don’t call 911; use your local police station’s non-emergency number. Depending on where you live, you may have the option to fill out a police report online if you prefer. If they have one, it’s usually pretty easy to find your police station’s website with a quick internet search. Report the identity theft. At best, they can find and prosecute the perpetrator. At worst, you’ll have a police report that you can later use if a credit tries to come after you for a debt you didn’t incur.

Contact the credit bureaus. The three main ones are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If it was just a few items that were purchased on your credit card without your permission, you shouldn’t have to do this. Try straightening it out with your credit card company first.

If it’s more serious, such as you believe someone has access to your social security number, your license, or other personal information that they may be able to use to obtain a credit card or loan in your name, then you should set up a fraud alert. This means that before anyone can grant you (or someone posing as you) credit, the credit bureau must contact you, usually by phone.

As a further safety measure, you might want to consider freezing your account. This is where contacting the police may come in handy. In some states, it costs to freeze your account unless you are a victim of identity theft. If they request proof, send in your police report. Don’t worry about contacting all three bureaus; if you contact one, they are required to contact the other two for you.

Next, you should check your credit report. The silver lining in this situation is that you can receive one extra free copy of your credit report (in addition to the one free credit report per bureau per year) from each bureau if you are a victim of identity theft. Look over the information, and make sure everything is correct. If it’s not, contact the credit bureau(s). If the same false information is listed on more than one credit report, you only have to contact one credit bureau, although if you want to contact them all, theoretically the false information will get corrected faster.

You have a few different options for contacting these agencies. The safest way is probably by mail, return receipt requested, in which case you would have a record that they received it. The quickest would probably be through their website. There’s also the option to do it by phone if that’s easiest for you. For links to each of the agencies’ online dispute centers, click the name of each: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

After that’s all done, you should finally be in the clear. It’s still a good idea to check your credit reports yearly, which you can receive a free copy of at Once the police have caught the identity thief or some time has passed and they have stopped trying to use your identity, you should be able to unfreeze your accounts and/or take the fraud alert off. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the other side of what can be a very frustrating experience.