About 10 million Americans a year have their personal information compromised. Often, the stolen information is used to take over accounts, open credit cards or obtain medical care long before the theft is ever discovered.
While many people first find out about identity fraud from their financial institutions, there are some red flags that indicate your personal information may have been stolen and used for fraudulent purposes.
- Unexplained charges or withdrawals: Check your financial account statements each month and be sure you recognize the transactions. Thieves will often make small test purchases first, so don’t ignore small charges that seem unfamiliar.
- Medical bills for doctors you haven’t visited: Likewise, if your health insurance carrier denies a legitimate claim, find out why. It’s possible for a thief to use your identity to obtain medical care or max out your insurance benefits.
- New credit cards you didn’t apply for: If you receive an unexpected credit card in the mail, contact the company issuing the card right away. Similarly, any statements that arrive for unknown accounts are a red flag.
- Errors on your credit report: Review your credit reports for any suspicious activity, such as accounts you didn’t open. You can review your reports for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com
- Collection notices or calls for unknown debt: Don’t assume the information is an error. Find out what the debt is for. If you believe the debt isn’t valid, send a letter via certified mail to the collection agency requesting proof of the debt and creditor within 30 days.
- Your credit card or application for credit is denied: If you haven’t reached your credit limit or normally have good credit, ask the reason for the denial. An identity thief may be racking up debt on your behalf or ruining your credit score with unpaid bills.
- Missing mail or email: Haven’t seen a monthly statement in a few months? A thief could be stealing your mail or may have changed the mailing or email address on the account to keep you from seeing fraudulent charges. Alternately, you may receive a notice from the post office that your mail is being forwarded to another address when you haven’t requested a change of address.
- Errors on your tax return or Social Security statement: The Internal Revenue Service may notify you that more than one tax return was filed in your name or that you have income from an employer you don’t know. Check that the earnings reported on your Social Security statement (available at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount) match your actual earnings.
- A warrant for your arrest: While it may seem extreme, it’s possible for someone to impersonate you while committing a crime. You may uncover the warrant if you’re stopped for another reason or involved in an accident, for example.
What to do if you fall victim to identity theft:
- Contact your financial institution immediately and alert it to the situation.
- Report all suspicious contacts to the Federal Trade Commission through the Internet a www.consumer.gov/idtheft , or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
- If you have disclosed sensitive information in a phishing attack, you should also contact one of the three major credit bureaus and discuss whether you need to place a fraud alert on your file, which will help prevent thieves from opening a new account in your name.