It’s important to know the signs of identity theft. Here are a few things to be on the lookout for.
1. Changes in a Bank Account
Look over your bank statements. What you don’t want to see are unexplained withdrawals from your bank account or a new account being listed on your bank statement or that a new one is connected to your account.
2. Unusual Charges on Your Credit Card or Debit Card
Carefully check your monthly statements from your bank, debit card, credit card and department store cards for errors. If you are not getting paper statements mailed to you, make sure you go online each month and inspect your recent activity for those accounts.
Go down the list of charges or debits on your statement and be on the lookout for anything that you don’t recognize.
When we go over these statements, we sometimes see charges we don’t immediately recognize. Usually it’s okay. We’re human, we forget things that happened 30 days ago.
And sometimes the company name on the card statement doesn’t ring a bell. But usually when we research it a little bit more, we realize that we did authorize that charge.
If there is a charge that you are sure you didn’t make, check with your spouse or other family members in case they were the one who initiated it. And sometimes, if you have a joint account with someone else, that other person has made purchases and you might not recognize one.
But sometimes that charge wasn’t something that you or your partner authorized. Sometimes that charge was made by someone else using your card details.
Often times, that charge could be just a small amount — sometimes around $10. Fraudsters will often make a small initial charge to see if they can get away with it before coming back a month or two later and going for a bigger amount.
Sometimes these fraudulent charges will be associated with a safe-sounding, generic company name, such as “Wireless Carrier Option” or “Internet Hosting Company”. The fraudsters hope that if you are just quickly scanning your statement, you may just assume that it was for something you actually purchased.
So if you determine that there is a charge that definitely isn’t yours, you should first try contacting the company listed alongside the charge.
If you discover that this charge resulted from someone else fraudulently using your card without your permission, you should then contact your credit card company or debit card issuer. They will start the process of canceling your current card and issuing you a new one.
Now, just because someone has information about one of your credit or debit cards, that doesn’t mean you have a full-blown identity theft problem. But you should be extra vigilant and look for any other signs.
3. Bills or Mail Stop Arriving in Your Mailbox
If you generally get bills through the mail and you notice that one or more of them have suddenly stopped, someone may have either tried to change your address at just one or two companies or through the USPS for your complete address.
When you file a change of address with the Post Office, they will send you a letter at your old address informing you that a change of address action was filed for you. This letter is to inform you of the change in case it was made in error or by someone else.
But what if you didn’t get that change of address confirmation letter? What would happen if someone knew that letter was coming and got it out of your mailbox before you could see it? Is that unlikely? Yes, but things do happen.
It’s more likely that someone will try to change your address with just one or two companies instead. At almost every serious company, when you change your important personal account details, such as email address, physical address, account password, etc., that company will respond back to you letting you know that your account was changed. This gives you a heads up in case you didn’t initiate the change.
This is one reason why it is so important to keep your all your account details up to date at every financial or other important company you do business with.
4. A Debt Collector Calls You
If you get a phone call from a debt collector and he or she is talking about a debt that you know isn’t yours, don’t immediately hang up the phone. Resist the urge to just say, “You got the wrong guy, Buddy,” and hang up the phone.
Try to get some information from the caller. Ask them, “Tell me about this debt.” Try to find out the name and address of the company that claims you owe them money along with the full name, current and previous addresses of the person they think you are, and any other details you can find out.
The caller could be a legitimate bill collector or it could be the start of a phone scam. You’re trying to find out which group the caller belongs to. These callers usually have a general script that they will try to stay on, but you don’t have to follow along with it. You don’t have to answer any of their questions. Just reply back with your own questions.
Don’t agree to anything and don’t admit to anything. Try not to be rude. Just get whatever information you can get and then politely hang up.
5. Your Credit Report Shows Accounts That Aren’t Yours
When you see something on your credit report during one of your regular checks (you are regularly checking your credit report, aren’t you?) that you know isn’t from an account that is really yours or something you know you didn’t authorize, you need to look into it.
You can contact AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report. You can receive one free report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies each year.
So, if you plan it out, you can get a free one every four months and use these reports to help monitor what these companies are tracking about you.
6. You Receive a Statement From a Medical Provider That You Don’t Use
If you get a statement from a doctor or other healthcare office, even if it’s not a bill, this could be something to investigate. Due to the recent changes in our health care laws, this type of fraud is declining, but there are still instances of patients who give false information to a medical facility in order to receive health care without having to pay for it.
If you have a spouse or other family members, check with them first to see if this statement is from an office visit or other health care that they might have received. Also, remember that many medical offices use third-party labs and other providers, so be sure to take that into account. But if no one in your household recognizes the event, give the billing number of that office a call and investigate it.
7. Your Health Insurance Company’s Records Show Medical Claims That Are Not Yours
No one likes going through the list of health insurance claims, office visits, deductibles and so on, but you should look at it once in a while.
What you’re looking for is names of doctors, treatments, prescription drugs or office visits on dates you don’t recognize. Medical identity theft still happens.
8. You Receive a Change of Information Email or Letter
Be on the lookout for emails or mail coming from your bank, credit card company or any other company that states that your account details were changed, especially if it was your phone number, password, email address or physical address.
If you didn’t initiate this change, it could be that someone has gained access to that account and was trying to get control of it.
9. You Lost Your Laptop
Be on the watch for any unusual activity if you lost your computer or had one stolen. More than likely, the person who took it is only interested in getting some quick cash for it and they aren’t looking to pry into your personal life. But if they sell it, the person who buys it from them might be interested in that sort of thing.
10. The IRS or Your State Revenue Department Contacts You
You file your tax return, but you later get a notice from the IRS that you have already filed a tax return for that year. That may mean that someone else has used your social security number to file a fake tax return in order to try to claim your potential refund.
You receive a notice from the IRS that states that you didn’t include wages from a certain employer on your tax return — but you have never heard of that employer nor ever worked for them.
You receive an IRS notice concerning information about a tax return for a year when you didn’t actually file a return.
Just remember that the IRS contacts individuals by regular mail — they don’t initiate contact with an email or phone call. And they will not ask for personal details by email or phone. If someone calls or emails you out of the blue pretending to be from the IRS, they probably are not from the IRS.
11. There is a Data Breach
A company you do business with has had a data breach where customers credit card and other personal information was stolen by someone. However, just because your name and information was part of a data breach doesn’t mean that you will be a future victim, but you should be on a higher watch.
12. You Believe Your Computer Was Compromised
Okay, just because your computer has a virus doesn’t mean that the data on your hard drive has been stolen. Many computer viruses and adware are annoying, but they don’t result in data loss.
However, there are certain programs that are malicious. These programs can record your keystrokes and allow the perpetrator to potentially learn your favorite website log-ins and passwords and other personal information. So if you think you have one of these malicious programs on your computer, you should take steps to clean your computer first before doing anything else.
13. You Get Arrested or Questioned by the Police
What we are getting at here is if you are arrested or questioned by the police about a crime or other incident that was committed by or involved with someone who has your name or identity. This can be a serious issue.
We’re not talking about instances when the police talk to you about something you actually did or something that actually relates to your real life.
14. Your Wallet or Purse Has Just Been Stolen or Lost
Now, just because you lose your wallet doesn’t mean that someone will try to compromise your identity. You may be able to get away without completing all of the typical identity theft recovery steps.
If your wallet isn’t recovered right away, you will probably have to cancel your credit cards, store charge cards, debit cards, and also replace your drivers license and any other missing documents you may have been carrying.
Most experts recommend you place an initial fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the main credit reporting agencies. And, at the very least, you should be highly vigilant and watch your bank accounts daily and check your credit report for any unusual activity.
15. Someone Broke Into Your House
If your home, apartment or office was broken into and you believe that some important personal information was taken, you should be on high alert.
Most likely, the person who broke in is only interested in your physical property, they aren’t concerned with your personal information. But if you notice certain items, such as financial documents, passport or your checkbook are missing — you may want to initiate some preemptive moves.