How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?

There are many signs of identity theft. Some are obvious, but others can seem normal.

You almost certainly know an identity theft victim, although you may not realize it. You could be one yourself.

About 7 percent of people over age 16 were robbed of their identities in 2012, and 85 percent of the incidents involved using existing accounts for fraud, according to the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Fact: 34.2 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2012.

It’s not always easy to spot identity theft, and that’s especially true if you don’t think to look for it. If your credit card is declined, you might think something is wrong with the card reader, or maybe that the card itself is getting worn out and needs to be replaced. You might be too busy to notice an unusual transaction on your statement.

That’s exactly what the identity thief hopes will happen.

What identity theft looks like

The way most people find out about identity theft is when their bank calls to tell them about suspicious activity. While it’s nice to know somebody is looking out for you (or at least for your money), a more proactive approach could prevent hassle and potential losses later. Here are some signs of identity theft to watch for:

  • Banking withdrawals or purchases you don’t recognize.
  • Missing bills or mail.
  • Collection calls about debts that aren’t yours.
  • Unfamiliar accounts on your credit report.
  • Medical bills for services you didn’t receive.
  • A rejected health insurance claim.
  • 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.
  • Notice from a company you have an account with that there’s been a data breach.

Any of these occurrences should put you on alert and make you start asking questions. At the very least, you’ll want to speak with whoever sent the correspondence (or whomever you’re missing mail from) and let them know what’s going on.

You should also make sure your personal information is accurate and up-to-date, check your recent banking transactions, request your free credit report, and consider changing passwords on your accounts – all good ideas to do routinely anyway.

A more drastic step is to place a fraud alert on your credit file. That makes it more difficult for credit to be opened in your name, and it’s for anyone who suspects they may be a victim of identity theft.