Identity theft is a real threat, and can occur long before the victim realizes what happened. The best way to detect attempted identity theft is to stay proactive in keeping tabs on the activity of your financial accounts and acting upon anything that seems out of the ordinary.
Ten Signs to Look For
According to the FBI, identity thieves actually need very little information in order to start opening accounts in someone else's name. Since everyone is at risk, it's important to stay vigilant in watching out for these top signs of identity theft.
1. Denied Credit
If you have good credit and can generally get approved for loans and credit cards easily, an unexpected credit application denial might be your first sign that you may be a victim of identity theft. The same goes for instances where you are approved for credit, but at a much higher interest rate than you anticipated.
A merchant refusing to accept your check after running your name through the system can also be a sign; some merchants utilize services that quickly run your information through a system that rejects checks from individuals who are considered high-risk.
These events may indicate that someone has opened accounts in your name and now those accounts sit delinquent on your credit report, dragging your credit score down and resulting in the denials. Order a copy of your credit report and review it for errors.
2. Credit Report Errors
Monitoring your credit report is an important step to detecting identity theft early. Look for these signs:
- Items appearing on your report that you don't recognize
- Inquiries on your report from companies you don't know
- Address information listed for you in locations you've never lived
Innocent errors do occur on credit reports occasionally, but investigate anything out of the ordinary immediately to make sure these are simply mistakes and not indications of identity theft. File a dispute with the credit reporting agency to correct the information and place a fraud alert on your report if you can't figure out the source of the problem.
3. Mystery Withdrawals and Charges
Monitoring you bank account and credit card accounts is another important step in detecting identity theft, and it's one that should be ongoing and frequent. If you notice any activity on any of your accounts (including authorization attempts) that you don't recognize, immediately contact your financial institution or credit card issuer. They will likely begin an investigation, as well as close your credit or debit card and issue you a new one.
4. Unsolicited Contact
If you start receiving letters, phone calls and emails from creditors who you typically don't have contact with, this may be a sign of identity theft. This includes:
- Application denial letters for accounts you didn't apply for
- Credit cards you didn't apply for
- Phone calls from debt collectors for accounts you didn't open
Notify the creditor or collector that you did not apply for the account and order a copy of your credit report for review.
5. Missing Mail
Identity thieves might change your address (mailing and email) in order to get your financial information sent to them, or they may simply reach into your mailbox and snag your mail.
- If you notice that you're not receiving your monthly statements from your banks or lenders, contact them and discuss your concern.
- You should also be concerned if a credit card or checks you are expecting in the mail do not show up in the expected timeframe. In this instance, contact the issuing institution immediately.
6. Inaccessible Accounts
If your PIN suddenly doesn't work for your ATM card, or if you can't seem to get logged into your credit card company's website to check on your account, this may be a sign that someone has hacked into your accounts. Contacting your financial institution is the best step to take in this instance. Make sure this is simply an instance where you've forgotten your PIN or logon information as opposed to someone stealing access into your accounts.
7. Unexplained Health Claims
Identity theft isn't just about stealing money; some identity thieves steal identities in order to take advantage of the victim's health insurance benefits. Look for these signs:
- Bills for procedures you didn't have
- Unexpected denials for treatment
- Unexpected denials for claims
An unexpected denial may be the result of an identity thief using your information to have a procedure, which then results in a denial when you try to have the same procedure. If this happens, speak to your health insurance representative and tell her that you think you may be a victim of identity theft. You also need to order a copy of your credit report to review it for possible fraud.
8. IRS Notification
Receiving an IRS notification of unreported income or of duplicate filings should raise a flag that you may be the victim of identity theft. In this instance, it's important to contact the IRS and file an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039), then order a copy of your credit report.
9. Notification of Data Breach
Identity theft isn't always a singular event; in some instances, such as with the massive Target data breach in 2013, multiple consumers are possible victims. If you receive a notification that tells you there is a possibility that your personal information may have been compromised from a company you do business with or from the fraud detection department of your financial institution, this should be taken seriously.
Follow the instructions provided by the company, which often suggest that you close the possibly affected account, order a copy of your credit report and place a fraud alert on your report. In the instance of your credit card issuer flagging your account for unusual activity, it may just be an instance where you review your recent transactions with a representative, and if everything is legitimate, no action is needed.
10. Something Seems "Off"
Suppose you make a withdrawal at an ATM and the balance shown on your receipt seems lower than you anticipated, or you notice that there is a check missing from your checkbook and you can't remember what you wrote it for. While these instances by themselves may not seem like anything to panic about, they may actually be your first clue that your identity has been stolen and someone is accessing your money.
Investigate anything that seems "off," whether it's a single phone call from a collection agency that you initially chalk up to error or realizing that you aren't sure where your debit card is.
The quicker you act when you think you may be a victim of identity theft, the more quickly you can halt any fraudulent activity. In some instances, identity theft can turn into a huge headache that involves lost funds, denied credit and perhaps even a warrant for your arrest. The more aggressively you pursue a solution, the better.
Immediately investigate any event that seems to point to possible identity theft. Continue to proactively review your credit reports and financial accounts, and always protect your personal information in an effort to avoid falling victim to identity theft.