Use this guide and learn how to recognize the signs of identity theft before it’s too late.
Fact: In 2017, 16.7 million Americans suffered from identity theft.
That’s an eight percent increase from 2016, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. And even with the attention these thieves have been receiving by the government and businesses across the country, they still stole $16.8 billion. Consumers often missed early signs of identity theft, leading to higher losses.
“2017 was a runaway year for fraudsters, and with the amount of valid information they have on consumers, their attacks are just getting more complex,” says Al Pascual, senior vice president, research director and head of fraud & security, Javelin Strategy & Research. “Fraudsters are growing more sophisticated in response to industry’s efforts to implement better security.”
Now that hackers can breach even the most cutting-edge security methods, monitoring your own personal information and spotting identity theft at the earliest stages is essential.
How to Spot Identity Theft
Spotting the warning signs of identity theft quickly can help you prevent drastic financial damages. And these damages go beyond emptying your checking accounts. They include, buying goods and services on your credit card, receiving medical treatment through your health insurance, creating a new passport using your name, and opening new credit card accounts.
Look for these 16 early signs of identity theft:
- Withdrawals from your bank account that you didn’t make
- Missing bills or other mail
- Collectors calling you about debts that aren’t yours
- Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
- Medical charges for services you didn’t receive
- A denied health insurance claim because records show you’ve reached your benefits limit
- A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have
- Notice from the IRS that you have income from an employer you don’t work for, or that your tax return was already filed when it wasn’t
- Receiving a tax transcript that you didn’t request
- You receive a tax refund that you didn’t request
- You get notified that your personal information was stolen during a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
- You’re turned down for credit or offered a credit line at a higher interest rate
- A stranger is trying to collect unemployment benefits in your name
- Your credit score is suddenly rising for no apparent reason
- You identify small charges on your credit card (known as “test charges”) that you didn’t make
- You receive a much larger amount of solicitations for “big-ticket” items
Staying alert and applying safe practices when you’re online or using your mobile device only makes an identity thief’s job tougher. It will also give you a head start if you find out that you are a victim.
What to do if I’m a victim of identity theft
Use the general checklist below if you believe a thief compromised your personal information. Using the free letters and reports offered on the IdentityTheft.gov website makes the process much easier. They also offer comprehensive advice and other resources that will help you through this difficult time.
|Step||Action Item #1||Action Item #2||Action Item #3|
|Contact companies where fraud occurred.||Call the fraud department of each company||Close or freeze the accounts||Change passwords, logins and PINS for the accounts|
|Place a fraud report and get your credit reports||Contact one of three credit bureaus: Experian.com, TransUnion.com, Equifax.com||Get your free credit reports from the three bureaus||Review your reports and identify any fraudulent accounts and transactions|
|Report identity theft to FTC at: IdentityTheft.gov||Create an account on their website||Go through each recovery step on account and create a plan and Identity Theft Report||Update your recovery plan, and track your progress|
|Correct your credit report||Write to each credit report bureau and include a copy of your Identity Theft Report and proof of your identity||Point out the fraudulent information on your report||Ask them to block that information|
|Report to your local police department||Bring a copy of your Identity Theft Report, ID, proof of address and any other proof of theft||File the report at your local police station||Ask for a copy of your filed report|
Ways to Prevent Identity Theft
Security experts from the Javelin Strategy & Research study, recommend certain steps that consumers should adopt as they navigate through the online world. They believe these safeguards will, at minimum, help protect your identity. The steps include:
- “Two-factor authentication.” This approach amps up your security and demands an additional action besides simply putting in a username and password to reach your account.
- Securing online and mobile devices by encrypting data, not using public Wi-Fi, installing anti-malware and utilizing a virtual private network (VPN).
- Considering a credit report freeze, especially if you’re not opening new accounts. This will stop any fraudster from opening an account in your name.
- Signing up for account alerts. Some financial service providers, such as credit card companies, give you the choice to receive notifications when they suspect questionable activity.
More Identity Theft Protection Tips
There are a few other things you can also do. For example:
- Don’t carry your social security card with you
- Don’t answer unsolicited requests for your personal information online, by phone or through the mail
- Shred your account statements and expired credit cards
- Store all sensitive information in a safe place such as a safe deposit box at your local bank
Staying vigilant and avoiding all suspicious emails, phone calls and other requests for personal information and boosting your online security should become the new norm for you. After all, it doesn’t look like identity theft will be going away any time soon.
More Questions about the Signs of Identity Theft
Q:Are there any early warning signs of tax identity theft?
- Receiving a notice from the IRS that you have income from an employer you don’t work for
- Notification that tax return was already filed when it wasn’t.
- You received a tax transcript that you didn’t request or a tax refund that you didn’t request.
- If you owe additional taxes or have collection actions against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- You have unpaid taxes in your underage child’s name because identity thieves stole your child’s Social Security number to file falsified tax returns.
Q:What are the warning signs of medical identity theft?
Read your medical and insurance statements regularly. Also, analyze the Explanation of Benefits statement or Medicare Summary Notice that your health plan sends you after treatment. You want to make certain the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided correspond with the care you’ve received. If you see a mistake, contact your health plan and report the problem.
Article last modified on October 3, 2022. Published by Debt.com, LLC