It can take a fairly long time to restore your identity once it’s been stolen unless you are able to detect it quickly and shut the thief down fast. If the thief gets a large window of time to work with then it grows much, much harder and turns into a far more convoluted process. Not only that, but multiple thieves may have your information at that point, making it even harder to prove that you are the original John Q. Public. In fact, a single thief can actually create more than one identity using your information as a basis, using three or four versions of it.
A lot of the time your worst enemy is the credit bureaus themselves. They often make you jump through hoops to get any information removed…and sometimes the information reappears, as anyone who has ever tried to correct an inaccuracy on the reports knows.
Now the average time is about 26 hours for most people—but again, that’s if you catch it fast. It also depends on the sophistication of the thief in question, who might have created quite a tangle not only to get more out of your identity, but also to make the trail far harder to follow back to him.
In fact, the hardest types of identity theft to clean up don’t have a thing to do with your credit report. Medical ID theft requires you to obtain and clean up your medical records, which is sometimes a next to impossible process. In fact, due to HIPPA laws the hospitals you didn’t personally visit might not want to release the records to you, even though they were made in your name and with your identity, fraudulently. Criminal ID theft, where the criminal is caught doing something and then gives your identity, then does not show up for the court date, is even harder. Suddenly you’ve got a warrant out for your arrest and you’re going to spend several hours or more in jail sorting it out.
You’ll find, for the most part, that the agencies involved just aren’t that helpful. It’s cheaper and more expedient to go after you for the fraudulent charges than it is to track down an identity thief. Some people have even had a massive amount of trouble getting law enforcement to accept their police reports. Identity theft cases typically bring down the arrest metrics for the police department, making them more than willing to pass it off as a “jurisdictional issue.” Given you have to have those reports to get started on almost any facet of disputing charges or freezing accounts, this reluctance can be devastating.
When it comes to ID theft, the old saying holds true. A pound of prevention really is worth an ounce of cure.