12 Signs Someone Just Stole Your Identity
Nearly 60 million Americans have been victims of identity theft. Watch out for these red flags that you might be next.
You see errors on your credit report
Pro tip: Each year, you can request a free credit report from any of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Experts recommend taking advantage of this perk every four months to check for anything suspicious, such as unfamiliar accounts or credit inquiries. If you notice an error, contact the credit bureaus ASAP. "Ask them to investigate and remove any false information on your credit report," says Steven J.J. Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and author of Identity Theft Alert. "This is critical" to protecting your credit score going forward. Check out 26 more secrets an identity thief doesn't want you to know.
You notice unexplained charges on your credit card
You don't have to lose your wallet for thieves to steal your credit card info. If you log into sensitive accounts or enter your credit card number while on public Wi-Fi, hackers can gain access to your information, according to Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center. Contact your creditor to report the fraud and have the charges removed; then, get new credit card numbers as soon as possible. Here are 10 times you should never use a credit card.
You receive calls from debt collectors
Phone calls requesting overdue payments could be a sign that an identity thief is running up a tab at your expense. But before you rush to close your bank accounts, keep in mind that every instance of identity theft is different. Velasquez recommends using the Identity Theft Resource Center's toll-free hotline or online LiveChat, where an advisor can help you form the best plan of action. Beware of other phone call scams that could steal your money.
You get a two-factor identification alert
When hackers dig around in your online accounts, they could accidentally trigger an identification alert. That said, you can easily keep cybercriminals away by strengthening your passwords. "Consider putting together four random words and adding a number, at least one lowercase, and a special character," says Theresa Payton, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Fortalice and coauthor of Protecting Your Internet Identity. A password like "CozyChairFireBook2020!" would be tough for a scammer to crack. Find out if your password recovery questions are easy to hack, too.
You notice unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account
It's always a good idea to keep a close eye on withdrawals from your bank account—no matter how small. Hackers might withdraw a couple of bucks to test if the charge goes through. As soon as you notice any unfamiliar charges, contact your credit card company and ask them to freeze your credit. "This prevents [the] opening of any new lines of credit, making you a tougher target," says Robert Siciliano, a security analyst for Hotspot Shield. Identity thieves will quickly move on.
You start getting bills for unfamiliar expenses
Don't ignore or toss any unusual bills that appear in your mailbox. It might not be innocent spam mail; bills or notices for overdue payments could mean trouble with identity fraud, experts say. In this case, you should file a police report right away. "They probably will not catch the criminal, but it puts you on record as having reported the identity theft and can help in repairing your credit," Weisman says.
You stop receiving mail or emails
On the other hand, not receiving mail or emails related to expenses could also be a sign of identity theft. This especially goes for items that you receive on a regular basis, like bank statements and bills. An identity thief only needs your name and address to re-route your mail and intercept sensitive documents, so make sure to follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time.
You are told that you filed more than one tax return
Strange, but true—identity thieves can file a tax return in your name, claiming a phony refund and hoping to swipe it from your mailbox. Being rejected for an electronically filed tax return or receiving a tax refund you did not request are big red flags that your identity has been stolen. If this happens to you, Weisman recommends contacting the IRS as soon as possible to report the fraud.
You receive mail addressed to a different name
If you start getting mail addressed to people who don't live with you, you should take it seriously. Mistakes happen, but it can't hurt to freeze your credit if it does end up being identity fraud. "Everyone should do this regardless of whether they are a victim of identity theft or not," Weisman says. "It is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft."
You are rejected for insurance claims or credit applications
Let's say your application for credit is denied, but you have a good credit score. Or, maybe your medical insurer rejects a claim even though you know it was legitimate. Identity thieves might be taking out loans or making fraudulent claims with your information, Weisman says. He recommends reaching out to your medical provider or credit card company to confirm and report the fraud.