Don’t overlook these signs of an identity thief at work wrecking your credit.

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 3 million reports of fraud and identity theft in 2019, according to a report from the Consumer Sentinel Network. In fact, that year, the FTC received more reports about identity theft (20% of all reports) than any other type of complaint.

Credit card fraud topped the list of identity theft reports, with more than 270,000 people telling the FTC that personal information was misused on an existing account or fraudulently used to open a new credit card. But how can you spot the signs that your identity has been compromised so you can safeguard your credit?

A new survey of more than 1,400 Americans found 40 percent of respondents have been victims of identity theft. Despite how common a crime it’s become, 84 percent said they were “surprised to find they were a target of identity theft.”

And for many, it’s quite expensive. One in ten said identity theft cost them between $2,500 and $5,000, and another 1 in 10 took on $500 or more in debt.

December is National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month. Learn the red flags of identity theft to find out if how to prevent becoming another statistic.

1. Bills missing from the mailbox

If you notice certain household bills no longer arrive in the mail, the absence of those statements could signal possible identity theft, according to major credit bureau Experian. That’s because an identity thief who compromises your personal information might change your billing address to keep you from seeing statements on a credit card or loan fraudulently taken out under your name.

Find out: How to Prevent Identity Theft

2. Unauthorized purchases

If you receive an invoice in the mail or a confirmation email for a purchase you didn’t make, that’s a red flag your identity has been compromised, according to Experian. The same goes for unauthorized charges to your credit card such as online or retail purchases and subscriptions for streaming services or memberships you never signed up for.

Find out: Watch Out for These 6 Signs of Tax-Related Identity Theft

3. Your credit application was denied

If you have good credit but a credit card company denies your credit application anyway, there could be a few reasons for the denial. For instance, you may already have too much debt, so your credit utilization rate – the ratio of revolving debt to your available credit – is more than the recommended 30%. But there could also be identity theft factors at work.

For example, an identity thief could have taken out a loan in your name and defaulted, damaging your credit score. Or someone could have opened new credit cards under your name and maxed them all out, shooting up your credit utilization rate.

If a lender turns you down for credit, it must let you know the specific reasons – or at least inform you that you have the right to learn the reasons – it denied your credit application within 60 days. The credit card company or other lender must also inform you of your right to get a free copy of your credit report, which you should review often, watching for unfamiliar accounts that signal identity theft.

Find out: The Top 5 Identity Theft Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

4. “Test” charges on your credit card

According to Experian, identity thieves often start with small, “test” purchases under $5. Once those low-cost charges get approved, the identity thief is emboldened to move on to larger transactions. Carefully review all transactions on your card’s statement each month so you don’t overlook small charges put on your card by an identity thief testing the waters.

Find out: How to Recover From Identity Theft in 6 Steps

5. Alerts of suspicious activity

When you receive an email or text alert about a suspicious transaction, don’t ignore it. At the same time, don’t just start clicking on links or attachments in the copy right away, since the “alert” also could be a ploy to gain access to your sensitive, personal information for identity theft purposes.

If the alert came from your credit card company or bank, call the customer service number listed on the issuer’s or bank’s website or verify that the number you’re instructed to call is a valid number for the credit card issuer or bank. If the alert is valid, contact the creditor immediately to cancel the credit card and get a new card issued.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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