Spotting Identity Theft Isn't Always Easy
The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears might not come to mind when thinking about identity theft, but when spotting traces of an identity thief, it won’t be as easy as finding them resting in plain sight.
Unfortunately, spotting signs of identity theft takes a closer and more careful look from your bank accounts all of the way to your credit score. While you might hesitate to check your credit score, did you know that you can request a free report each year? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you can.
But if you’re already suspecting something’s up with your bank account, a credit card account, credit report, or any other areas in which you use sensitive information, then it’s time to take action. Here are 8 warning signs of identity theft to look out for.
1. There’s an unexpected charge on your bank account.
One of the most obvious signs that something suspicious is up is when an unexpected charge appears on your bank account. Check to see if you still have your bank card. A suspicious charge typically means that either someone has stolen your bank card or has gotten access to your bank account in some way. Sometimes criminals will use test transactions to see if their fraudulent charge will be processed before making further transactions.
2. A credit card has been maxed out.
Another common sign of possible ID theft is a maxed out credit card. Check to see if you still have it; in cases like this, it’s likely your card has been stolen. Another big risk with a lost or stolen credit card is having sensitive information compromised. If you’ve lost a credit card or suspect it’s been stolen, you need to contact the card’s company immediately and have them cancel it.
3. A new loan has been opened in your name.
If a new loan has been opened in your name, a criminal has likely gotten access to key pieces of your personal information. You should contact the lender immediately and have them close the account. You should also take it a step further by filing an identity theft report with the FTC and consider placing a freeze on your credit or requesting an initial fraud alert.
4. You’re getting calls from debt collectors.
If you start getting calls from debt collectors and have no memory of the charges, then it’s time to investigate. You can ask the collector for their information (but don’t give them your personal information) and wait until you get a validation notice. You should check your credit to see if the charge is on your report. From there, you can send a letter disputing the charge with the collector.
5. You’re no longer getting your normal bills in the mail.
While it sounds great, not getting your bills anymore is a problem. If you stop getting your bills in the mail, this could be a sign that someone has changed your mailing address. One of the benefits of using an identity theft protection service is having your personal information monitored for any address changes. If you suspect this has happened, the United States Postal Service (USPS) says to submit a complaint to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service using the Identity Theft Complaint Form. You can also initiate a fraud alert with one of the three major credit bureaus. You can find additional steps from the USPS here on their website.
6. Your tax return for the year has already been filed.
Some criminals are after tax refund checks, and will file someone else’s tax return. One way you can prevent this from happening is to make sure you file your taxes ahead of time. In the event you suspect you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft, you should contact the IRS. You can find further steps to take on IRS.gov.
7. You’re getting medical bills for unknown services.
If you receive unknown medical bills, it’s time to investigate. A criminal could have used your identity for medical care. You should take time to review the bill carefully, request copies of your medical records, and contact the healthcare provider and your insurer. You could also file a police report and a complaint with the FTC.
How do identity thieves get your information?
There are a number of ways identity thieves can steal your information, and some are not always the most obvious.
- Email phishing – This is when someone tries to get your personal information or access to your information through deceiving means.
- Unsecure Wi-Fi connections – Be careful about joining unsecure Wi-Fi networks as criminals may be able to steal sensitive information if entered in, like usernames and passwords.
- Card skimming at ATMs – As you use ATMs, be sure to look out for card skimming devices. These will normally look “off” from the ATM machinery. You normally can also test a card reader by wiggling it to see if it is not secure (and thus not likely part of the original ATM machine).
- Stealing a wallet or purse – If you set down your wallet or purse while out, it can become an easy target for criminals. Try to keep these items on you while out.
- Dumpster diving – Another common strategy that criminals use to obtain sensitive information is simply by rummaging through garbage disposals.
How can you prevent identity theft from happening to you?
Here are some quick tips on preventing criminals from stealing your personal information:
- Shred mail that has your personal information before throwing it out
- Don’t put down your purse or wallet while in a store (try to keep it on your person) – for women with purses, they can invest in a small pocket wallet or wristlet
- Do not carry your social security card with you
- Be careful about sharing personal information on social media, with online quizzes, email opt-ins, and etc.
- Make sure you use strong/varied passwords and use additional measures like two-factor authentication whenever possible
Wise up and keep an eye out even for the smallest of changes with your bank account, bills, records, and more. While we can’t stop identity theft from happening, we can be more vigilant with our sensitive information. An identity theft protection service can also assist by having professionals monitor for changes or fraudulent activity with your personal information.