There are quite a few warning signs that someone has stolen or somehow used your identity for nefarious purposes. Once armed with your information, identity thieves can do a number of things to damage your credit—and even your reputation in extreme cases. With your compromised data, someone can pretend to be your and empty bank accounts, open new credit cards, access health insurance, file income taxes in your name and much more.
Because it can take quite a while for identity theft to be detected, it is vital that you stay aware of any signs along the way that can help you put a stop to this activity right away. That being said, it is not uncommon to see some signs and simply chalk them up to ‘errors,’ but ignoring even one indicator can lead to dire financial and emotional expense. Here are the warning signs that you should be on the lookout for.
Suspicious Bank Account Activity
When checking your monthly bank statements, look for any unauthorized transactions or activity that appears suspicious. If there are any indications of something amiss such as unexplained withdrawals or charges that you cannot explain, it’s important to contact the financial institution immediately to file a dispute claim. Victims of such theft should also contact the police and make an official report. Until you can get your accounts reset and secured again, it is advisable to set up a two-part authentication process to boost the security levels of your accounts.
Financial Related Mail Goes Missing
Missing bills and financial statements are a sign that someone may be attempting to steal your essential information related to your identity. Anytime you suspect that your mail is being hijacked, contact all institutions immediately to add extra precautions to your accounts. You might also consider investing in a post office box to curb the theft, but once your information is out there, you can be fairly confident of some sort of data compromise. Keep in mind, that all it takes is one form filled out with the post office to completely have your mail sent to a new address.
On the other side of the issue is the online aspect of mail and messaging. It is estimated that about 50% or more of people pay bills online or rely on online billing in lieu of paper mail, there is a lot of leeway for hackers to gain access to your private information. Just like with paper mail, you might start getting a lot less of those expected email reminders for bill payments if someone ha accessed your accounts. Another key indicator could be that you begin receiving paper or emails that are clearly not intended for you. This could mean someone is posing as you or that they have created at dual identity of ‘you.’
Credit Report Errors
You have the right to obtain a free credit report annually from the three primary providers: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, financial experts advise you to keep a closer eye on your credit reports by requesting one quarterly. This can add up quickly, which is why many opt to choose a credit monitoring company to alleviate the expense and effort. That being said, you will need to pay close attention to anything on your credit report that seems erroneous that may be affecting your FICO scores and overall history.
Look closely at your payment history, recent usage of active cards or any new ones that you know don’t belong to you. While you might want to take time to contact any vendors to dispute the charges, it is usually more effective to contact the creditor directly and make a fraud report. Any errors you might encounter will require a formal dispute and evidence may also be necessary. Point being, getting a peek at a recent credit report can alert you quickly that your scores aren’t where they should be.
Declines in Refunds From the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service may send a letter denying your paperwork, and if you have a refund coming due to having a child or other circumstances, this can be money you are counting on. Unfortunately, all someone needs to file an IRS claim is your social security number—something a former spouse, employers or other parties can be made privy to for any number of reasons. In situations where the IRS rejects your return, they will always include a reason. In identity theft cases, that will be a statement that someone has already filed in your name.
Random Calls from Debt Collectors
While it has been more common for scammers to make calls to potential victims with information they shouldn’t have in effort to gain more details, this can also be a sign of identity theft. Be sure to make note of the debtors, their phone numbers, and directly request a copy of the charges they are claiming you owe. It can be challenging differentiating between shams and the real deal debt collectors, so don’t ignore any of these calls. Follow through with customer service to alleviate any doubts and halt any further activity on questionable accounts immediately.
Denial of Health Services
If your insurance company or physician’s office unexpectedly denies your medical claim, it could be that someone else has taken advantage of your benefits. This will generally occur after your deductible has been met, and identity thieves utilize your coverage for their needs. These situations will take time to work out, so you should get statements from the doctor and insurer who had denied coverage compensation to begin the process of remediating your account.
Data Breach Notifications
Hackers and identity thieves don’t always limit themselves to simply stealing individual’s information one person at a time. Top tier dedicated hackers can create programs that steal information from databases that major companies keep on file from their customers. When this occurs, the company who was compromised will generally send out a notice that your information has been breached. While these notices don’t always mean that you have been affected by the breach, it is best that you take preventive actions to monitor your credit for any signs of unusual activity.
Unexplained Arrest Warrants or Legal Charges
This type of identity theft can be challenging to detect until damage to your reputation has been done. If someone has used your name or identification during a traffic stop or an arrest, you might not know until your next traffic stop or attempt to renew your license. This can also be problematic if you are currently seeking employment and a background check is run that reveals such issues. If you have lost your identification or plan on applying for a job, loan or other situation that might lead to a background check, you should perform one on yourself. These can typically be obtained online for a nominal fee, and certain credit protection services may also offer notifications of warrants and other suspicious legal activity in your name.
Notifications from an Identity Theft Protection Service
As you can see, keeping any eye out for all of these indications of possible identity theft can be a part-time job on its own, which is why many opt to employ an identity theft protection service. These entities charge an annual or monthly fee to act as ‘protectors’ of your personal information, and if you have already been a victim of identity theft or a data breach this service can prove invaluable. Generally, an identity theft protection company will offer you three primary services: monitoring, alerts and recovery.
- Monitoring – These companies offer to keep a watch on what’s happening with your personal information 24/7. This means that if a credit account is applied for, approved, or suspiciously high charges appear on accounts that the company sees a ‘red flag’ and alerts customers.
- Alerts – If the company suspects your personal information is being utilized, they will notify you via a method of your choice: by phone, email, text or SMS. This is extremely helpful, because it is often too late once you realize your information has been compromised, as many credit accounts are instantly approved and charges can add up fast.
- Recovery – Identity theft monitoring services also offer to help you recover any funds or damages related to losses that occur under their watch. Many offer insurance coverage up to one million dollars to cover these malicious attacks.
In addition to these services, some companies offer additional perks such as access to local sex offender registries and alerts concerning current identity theft news.