One of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States is identity theft. According to Javelin, there were 42 million victims of identity fraud in 2021. For most of us, it’s not a matter of if our identity is stolen—it’s a matter of when.
We hear about data breaches regularly, and no company is immune. Major retailers, banks, and hotel chains have all had their data compromised. There’s a good chance that at least some of your information is available to the underground world of identity thieves.
Identity theft protection services can help you protect your identity and notify you if your information has been stolen in a data breach. The best way to limit the negative consequences of identity theft is to catch it early. You will need to take steps to put a stop to it by closing accounts or even putting a freeze on your credit.
13 Signs of Identity Theft to Look Out For
Recognizing the signs of identity theft and learning how to prevent it can save you months and years of stress and anguish.
1. You Don’t Receive Expected Bills
If you’re not receiving bills as expected, that could be a sign that someone is redirecting your mail. They might actually be taking it out of your mailbox, but it could also mean that someone has changed your billing address on an account.
What to do: Contact your creditor directly and find out where they’ve been sending bills. Ask for a copy of your statement and warn them that you suspect identity theft and ask them to shut down the account. Identify any fraudulent charges so you won’t be liable for them.
2. You Receive Unexpected Notice that Your Information has Changed
When you change information on an account, such as a recovery email, billing address, password, or login, many companies send a confirmation email. If you get a confirmation email telling you personal information has been changed, and you know you didn’t request the change, there’s a good chance your identity is compromised.
What to do: Use the contact information in the email to report that you didn’t change your personal data and move to re-secure the account.
3. You’re Denied Credit for No Reason
Are you reasonably sure you qualify for a loan or credit card, but you’ve been rejected? It might be because someone has stolen your identity and has recently opened new credit in your name, or maxed out the credit you already have.
What to do: Get a free copy of your credit report and check for fraudulent accounts. If you find them, contact the creditor to have them shut down. Dispute the account with the three major credit bureaus and consider filing a report with the FTC.
4. You Notice Unauthorized Charges on Your Accounts
When monitoring your accounts, you might see charges that you don’t recognize. They could mean that someone has your account information and is using it for purchases. And don’t assume that small charges are no big deal. Identity thieves sometimes use them to gauge the viability of the account. If even a $1 charge is out of place, follow up.
What to do: Contact the account issuer and report the suspicious charges and ask for a new account number. Then, file a report with the FTC. While it’s hard to catch an identity thief, the fact that you filed a report can help you back up your story of fraud so you won’t be liable for charges.
5. Your Credit Score Has Changed Unexpectedly
If you see a sudden and big change in your credit score, it could mean that you’re the victim of identity theft. The most obvious case is if it makes a huge drop due to missed payments.
However, a big increase in your score could also be suspicious. It could mean someone’s using your name to open new accounts that result in a lower credit utilization ratio. Be suspicious of any sudden and large changes.
What to do: Review your credit report and check for fraudulent accounts. Contact the account issuers and file reports with the police and the FTC. You might also need a credit freeze.
6. You’re Getting Unexplained Medical Bills
Identity theft isn’t just about bogus credit card charges. Occasionally, a fraudster uses your personal information to get medical treatment—and the bill is sent to you. If you didn’t have a medical procedure, but you have the bill, you can be reasonably certain your identity has been compromised.
What to do: Contact the medical provider and prove your true identity, and point out that the bills are fraudulent. Work with law enforcement to find the perpetrator. In these cases, there is a better chance of catching the fraudster because many health care providers have some type of video surveillance.
7. You Get a Tax Transcript in the Mail
Normally, when you request certain information from the IRS, you can access it immediately. However, you have to prove your identity with a security test. If you fail the online test, the IRS might send the requested information via mail.
If you receive a document from the IRS that you didn’t request, that might mean some of your personal information is out there.
What to do: Contact the IRS fraud hotline at 800-829-0433.
8. Your Tax Return is Rejected
If your tax return isn’t accepted by the IRS, first check that your personal information is correct. Is your Social Security number right? You didn’t make any typos? If everything is in order and your filing was rejected anyway, that’s a big red flag.
For the most part, your return won’t be rejected unless a return with your Social Security number has been filed. There’s a good chance someone filed a return in your name and is currently enjoying your refund.
What to do: Contact the IRS and file a Form 14039, providing copies of your proof of identity.
9. You Receive a Tax Refund You Weren’t Expecting
Did you open your mailbox to see a preloaded debit card or check for a tax refund? Maybe you haven’t even filed yet, or you usually like to receive your refund via direct deposit. When this happens, it could be a sign that someone stole your identity and asked for the refund to be delivered by mail so they could steal it out of your mailbox.
What to do: Contact the IRS for more information about the tax return, and report the fraud.
10. You Can’t Open a New Utility Account
If you’re being told you can’t open a utility account because you have outstanding bills on an old account, that might be an indication that you’re a victim of identity theft. The scammer might have used your personal information to open an account, and then moved on without paying the bill.
What to do: Report the account to the utility provider and file a police report.
11. You Receive a Request for Two-Factor Authentication
Setting up two-factor authentication on your accounts can help you lock down your accounts and reduce fraudulent access to them.
Have you ever received a text message or an alert on your authenticator app indicating that you need to enter a code to access an account? It could mean someone is trying to impersonate you and they have enough information to get through the first round of security.
What to do: Double-check the account and verify that no unauthorized access has been made. Then, change your password and monitor the account for further activity.
12. Debt Collectors are Calling on Accounts that Aren’t Yours
If you’re being harassed by debt collectors, and you’re sure you don’t have accounts in collections, that’s a big clue that your identity has been compromised.
What to do: Verify that the debt isn’t yours and report it as fraudulent to the original account issuer and the collection agency. Then file a fraud report with the FTC.
13. Your Mailbox is Becoming Increasingly Cluttered
Are you getting larger amounts of direct mail (and maybe even email offers)? This could be an indication that someone is using your information to make purchases with new vendors. If you’re suddenly signed up for email newsletters and getting unusual offers in the mail, you could be compromised.
What to do: Review your credit report and check your accounts for fraudulent accounts and purchases. Contact appropriate account issuers and report the fraud, as well as filing police and FTC reports.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Keep Personal Information Private
One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from identity thieves is to keep your personal information private. This includes things like your Social Security number, date of birth, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers.
Be careful about who you share this information with. Consider using a shredder to destroy any documents that contain sensitive information.
Secure Online Accounts with Strong Passwords
Another important step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft is to secure your online accounts with strong passwords. This means using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
Furthermore, avoiding using the same password for multiple accounts. It’s also wise to enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible, as this adds an extra layer of security to your accounts.
Regularly Review Credit Reports
To help protect yourself from identity theft, it’s essential to regularly review your credit reports to ensure that all the information is accurate. This includes checking for unfamiliar accounts or charges, as well as making sure that your personal information is correct. You can obtain a free credit report every twelve months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
Use Identity Theft Protection Services
Another option for protecting yourself is to use an identity theft protection service. These services can monitor your credit reports and alert you to any suspicious activity, as well as provide you with tools to help you recover from identity theft if it does occur.
There are many identity theft protection services available, so do your research and choose one that meets your specific needs.
How to Report Identity Theft
If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft, you need to take immediate action to protect yourself. The first step you should take is to report the identity theft to the proper authorities. There are several agencies you can report it to, depending on the specific circumstances of your case.
One of the primary agencies you should contact is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC operates the Identity Theft Hotline, which is a resource for victims of identity theft.
You can report identity theft to the FTC by calling the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or by visiting their website at identitytheft.gov. In addition to the FTC, you should also consider reporting it to your local police department.
Furthermore, you need to let the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) know. By reporting it to these agencies, you can take steps to protect your personal information and prevent further damage.
Be Proactive in the Fight Against Identity Theft
Knowing the signs of identity theft and what to look for is the best way of fighting identity theft, but there is also more you can do. Consider freezing your credit reports and signing up with a credit monitoring company.
Additionally, remember to review your credit card and bank account statements each month. Furthermore, invest in a paper shredder and store your personal information in a safe place.