How Long Does It Take to Recover From Identity Theft?
The amount of time it takes to recover from identity theft is difficult to gauge, because it depends on a great many variables. The time, effort, and expense of identity theft recovery depend on the following:
• How long it took for the victim to learn about his or her stolen identity
• The victim's credit report and creditworthiness before becoming a victim
• The type of theft that occurred (lost or stolen wallet or purse, computer virus, family member using victim's personal information, etc.)
• Whether or not the thief used the personal information himself or herself or sold it to other thieves, creating much more damage and headaches for the victim
• Whether or not authorities caught the thief
• Other variables unique to each victim and situation
Under the best of circumstances, recovering from identity theft is a long and arduous journey that can tax the patience and resources of victims for years. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks identity theft statistics, helps victims, and coordinates responses by various governmental agencies. They estimate that recovering from identity theft takes an average of six months and 200 hours of work. However, the FTC qualifies this estimate by noting that most of the actual work of identity theft recovery — phone calls, written correspondence, keeping track of creditors, responding to letters, working with credit bureaus and law enforcement agencies, etc. — involves the victims making sure that they won't be liable for the debts thieves create in their names.
Victims who have used their credit wisely, earned good to very good credit ratings, and established a long history of responsible credit management have to deal with the phone calls, letter writing, and other headaches of recovering from identity theft just as everyone else does. However, they may have a somewhat easier time during identity theft recovery, because a pattern of careful, responsible behavior suddenly becomes profligate, careless, and uncharacteristic. This can help when they contact their creditors, credit bureaus, police, and others, because these agencies are often more inclined to believe that victims with an extensive record of trustworthy behavior are telling the truth.
In any event, the old axiom about medicine applies to identity theft as well: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to avoid a long and painful process of restoring your identity is to take steps to ensure that your identity is never stolen.