Topics:Identity Theft 101
Sometimes, despite even the best identity theft protection and the best preparation on your part, identity theft happens. The key to minimizing the damage that identity thieves can do to your finances and your records is to detect their crime early and take action immediately.
This article will give you some of the most common signs that you've been a victim of identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other identity theft protection authorities. By looking for these giveaways, you'll be more likely to put a stop to identity thieves' activities before they do irreparable damage to your life.
Sometimes you know that your personal information could be in trouble. In these instances, the personal documents or cards you should have are no longer in your possession and there is strong evidence that someone has taken them or they've been accidentally left in a vulnerable location. Unfortunately, if your personal documents are missing, there's a strong possibility that identity thieves could be involved.
These are some of the most common signs that you're at risk of identity theft:
If any of these happen to you, don't sit around and wait to see if thieves actually use your information against you. Be proactive and start contacting the right parties to protect your accounts and records and block identity thieves before they can do too much damage.
If any of the other signs have reared their ugly heads in your life, proceed to our article "What to Do If You Suspect You're a Victim of Identity Theft?"
Unfortunately, being a victim of identity theft isn't always as plain as having your wallet stolen or having someone ransack your filing cabinet. Often, you don't even suspect something's wrong until identity thieves have already struck and the results of their actions start showing up in your accounts or records.
Based on the FTC website on identity theft protection and other identity theft experts, these are the 15 most common signs that identity thieves have begun using your personal information for their own nefarious purposes:
If identity thieves have their hands on your debit card or bank account number, you might see money disappearing from your bank accounts. These might be cash withdrawals, money transfers to unknown accounts, or purchases at places you know you didn't visit. In the case where ID thieves take your card on a shopping spree, you'll see alarming amounts of money spent in a short period of time.
When you stop getting bank or credit statements for months at a time, it's a strong sign that someone might be redirecting your mail. Identity thieves are fond of submitting "change of address" forms at your local post office to have your mail sent directly to them. When basic bills and statements you know you should be getting stop showing up in your mailbox, it's time to start checking your accounts and records.
When identity thieves start opening accounts in your name or changing your address, sometimes you get mail that you weren't expecting. According to the U.S. News, this can be just a notice from the post office that your mail is being forwarded to another address without you having requested it. Another common one is receiving letters about accounts you never opened.
In what might be the most embarrassing symptom of identity theft, you pay by check or with a card only to have it declined due to insufficient funds. But it's not your fault. Identity thieves have drained your account, and the money you thought would be there is now gone.
No one wants to deal with debt collectors, but it's somehow even worse when the charge their collecting on is a complete mystery to you. You get the double displeasure of 1) having to talk to a debt collector, who won't believe a word you say, while 2) having that terrible realization in the pit of your stomach that someone is racking up debt in your name.
Looking at your credit reports regularly is one highly recommended way to monitor for any identity theft against you. Sometimes, this practice will reveal accounts you never set up or purchases you never made. If your credit report shows that someone used your credit card to take a two-week vacation in Rome while you were working in Poughkeepsie, for example, you need to take action immediately.
Remember how identity thieves can use your Social Security Number or insurance information to get medical care in your name? The evidence of these identity theft attacks will show up in your mailbox with doctors or hospitals demanding that you pay up. They can also show up on your medical records.
One of the biggest impacts of identity theft is the damage it does to your credit score. Despite all your best efforts to make your payments regularly and pay down your balances, identity thieves can ruin your credit. If you haven't been checking your credit report regularly, you won't know your credit score is bad until you try to apply for a new line of credit, a home loan, etc.
This is the bounced check of the insurance world. Just when you need medical treatment, just when you're ready to cash in on that insurance you've been paying for, your claim is denied on the grounds that, according to their records, you've maxed out all your benefits.
Keep in mind: this is a sign of identity theft only if you're absolutely sure that you haven't actually reached your insurance benefit limit. Make sure you double-check your own records before hurling any accusations of identity theft.
The Affordable Care Act, in theory, is supposed to do away with insurance companies refusing coverage based on pre-existing health conditions. If you have been turned down for health insurance in the past, however, because of a health condition you know you never had, you should still take steps to secure your identity and clear up your medical records.
Maybe you look forward to that nice tax return check every year. Identity thieves look forward to your check, too. If you get a notification from the IRS that you filed two tax returns, little red flags should go off in your head. Someone is trying to cash in on your taxes.
This might be one of the only ways to detect employment fraud, in which identity thieves use your name and Social Security Number to apply for jobs. Not knowing that someone else is working under your name, you naturally fail to report their income in your tax return. The IRS notifies you, thinking that you just forgot to mention it. At that point, there's a strong possibility that you've been hit by employment fraud.
These are becoming more and more common. Banks. Sony Playstation. The U.S. Government. All of these places and more have been hacked over the last few years and the personal information of users has been taken. When this happens, these organizations will send notifications out to those they think have been affected, telling them they need to update their login information to protect their accounts. If you get one of these notifications, it means your personal information, including Social Security Number, driver's licence number, or bank account information, could be in the hands of identity thieves.
One caveat: not all of these notifications are real. Fake notifications can be used in phishing attacks.
It could happen during a traffic stop. The officer takes your license and registration and comes back to inform you that you have an outstanding warrant. If this is news to you, there's a high probability that an identity thief has committed a crime and then used your personal information while being booked for that crime.
This is another version of the scenario where the IRS tells you that you failed to report income from a job you never knew you had. But you don't need to wait for the IRS to flag this for you. According to Paul Stephens at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:
"If you receive your statement and see that the earnings reported are greater than your actual earnings in a given year, someone might have stolen your Social Security number and be using it for wage reporting services."
Your email account will never change your password on you without your consent. That is, unless an identity thief has hacked into your account and changed your password. If you are suddenly unable to log into your email using a username and password that you know are correct, all the personal information contained in your email account could be in the hands of identity thieves.
If any of these warnings signs have shown up in your life, you know you've been hit by identity thieves. The next step is to take action immediately to limit the damage identity thieves can do to your finances, reputation, and records. See our article "What Should I Do If I Suspect I'm a Victim of Identity Theft?" to see what you need to do next.
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