If you’re familiar with the topic of identity theft, you’re probably worried about becoming a victim. ID frauds can greatly affect your life, especially because realizing your information has been actually stolen can be quite tricky.
When you get home to a ransacked apartment, it’s hard not to notice you’ve been robbed. However, when it comes to identity scams, the damage may be overlooked for months or even years. That’s why learning how to check for signs of identity theft can be crucial to minimizing the damage.
Now, some people may not think ID Theft is a big deal. Unfortunately, stats say otherwise.
- There were nearly 3 million reports of fraud in 2018. That’s 4.2% more than in 2017 and 15% of them (about 450,000) were for identity theft – making it the third most common type of fraud.
- People reported losing nearly $1.48 billion to fraud last year – $406 million more than in 2017.
- ID theft is a constantly growing threat – there was a 415% increase in identity fraud compared to 2001.
- In 2018 there were more than 167,000 reports for credit card fraud, the most popular ID scam type, amounting to $131 million in losses.
- Almost 158 million Social Security numbers were exposed in data breaches in 2017.
- People between 20 and 29 are most likely to lose money to fraud – they amount to 43% of all victims and lose $400 on average.
(Sources: Federal Trade Commission, Javelin Strategy & Research)
To learn more about what identity theft is, how it works, and how you can go about reporting it, you can read our article on the topic. If, instead, you prefer to get a bit more stressed out, feel free to take a look at our shocking ID scams stats.
So, let’s say that in an unfortunate incident, some lowly thief in a black and white striped shirt has gotten his grubby hands on your personal data.
He’s been using that information to steal your money, in order to complete his shirt collection. He obviously already has a black and white striped shirt, but has just bought a black shirt with white stripes and is planning on getting a very expensive, designer white shirt with black stripes.
Obviously, you need to stop him, but first you need to find out his nefarious plan. Fear not, we’re here to help! Time to check out some of the telltale signs of identity theft – that way you’ll know to what to pay attention.
How to Check for Identity Theft
There are a couple of steps you can take to eradicate your doubts.
Check Bank Statements
Checking your bank statements can help you monitor your spending habits, as we all know. There’s one side benefit to it, though. It can also allow you to notice suspicious activity in your account. It’s a great idea to make it a routine, instead of just discarding the reports you receive. You can also opt for online banking, so you have constant access to that information.
If you see withdrawals you don’t recognize or there have been charges for items, let’s say for a black shirt with white stripes you’ve never bought – this could point to possible identity theft.
Unfortunately, if payments have been made in your name, the harm’s already done and you’ve lost money to the grubby thief. However, the sooner you notice it, the lesser the damage.
Check Your Credit Card Report
You’re entitled to a free credit check every 12 months and it’s a great idea to take advantage of that. If you’re willing to go further in your quest for identity theft protection, you may want to consider filing a report every 4 months. Although you’ll have to pay some fees, it can provide some additional peace of mind.
The important thing to watch out for is if your credit rating is going up or down without a reason. That’s a pretty good indicator someone is using your personal information. In that case, it’s worth taking a more thorough look into all accounts, cards and loans. This can potentially save you from completing that thief’s shirt collection. You don’t even like stripes!
To get a free identity theft check, file for copies of your annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you still have questions, you can also take a look at the official FTC page. There you’ll find information on the data you need to provide, request processing time and any other details you may need.
Keep an Eye on Your Snail Mail
Once you go online, it’s hard to go back. The modern experience of paying your bills at home is incomparable with the long queues of the past. Most services will even send you reminders when the payment is due. However, this has made us careless about the physical mail we receive, which unfortunately can be a prerequisite to a stolen identity.
If you usually throw your mail away or let it accumulate in your post box, you might want to reconsider that habit. For all you know, that striped-shirt fellow got your details by stealing your electricity bill. Thanks to the notification you received on your phone about your utility bill you probably don’t even check the paper.
If you find yourself wondering “has my identity been stolen?”, roll up your sleeves and dig into that pile of letters. If you notice you’re getting mail from debt collectors, bailiffs or solicitors, addressed to someone else, this may mean the thief’s been using a different name, but your address.
If there are missing bills you should be receiving, giving the provider a call and confirming your address is a good idea. It’s an especially big red flag if you’re getting mail for medical bills or credit you never applied for.
In case you’re now wondering how to protect your identity, you may want to consider signing up for USPS’s Informed Delivery. It’s well worth it for your peace of mind.
Check Email Activity
After taking care of your snail mail, you should take a look at your email.
Your “Sent” folder, in particular, deserves attention. Any activity there you don’t recognize is a sign to change your password pronto. Same thing applies if it has been emptied out.
In case any of your friends or family mention receiving messages from you that you didn’t send – you guessed it – change your password. The smarter thieves would actually change the password themselves, essentially locking you out.
Alright, so how to tell if your identity has been stolen? One of the telltale signs is if you lose access to your mailbox.
Once a thief has control over your email, they can enter most accounts you created using that address. This includes your social media and Paypal. The scammer may also reach out to your friends to lure them into revealing personal information as well.
If a friend messages or emails you and they ask you for passwords and login information – consider giving them a call. Scammers may have taken over their account. Meanwhile, don’t open any links and attachments you don’t recognize.
If you’re wondering “How to find out if someone is using my identity?”, you may have noticed some of the warning signs. If that’s the case, you should run an in-depth antivirus scan to check for any malware that your computer might have “caught”.
If you find any, get rid of it and change your password. Feel free to take a look at FTC’s comprehensive guide about handling incidents like this.
(Sources: Kaspersky, Lifelock, Equifax)
How to Report Identity Theft
If you’ve gone through all the steps above, you may have caught the sneaky thief red-handed. You’ve managed to protect your information and now you’re thinking of reporting the identity theft to the authorities. After all, that’s how you protect others from having the same fate.
The best way to handle this is to reach out directly to the FTC. Visit their website IdentityTheft.gov and follow the instructions to create your personal recovery plan.
Their system will also generate an ID theft report victim scan and clear your credit files from the false information. In case you’re more comfortable using Spanish, you can also submit your report to RobodeIdentidad.gov. Keep in mind your report will become part of the Consumer Sentinel Network database and law enforcement officers will have access to it.
Alright, now that we’ve gone over who to contact for a situation of identity theft, let’s check out how you can avoid the whole ordeal in the first place.
(Source: USA Government)
Ways to Prevent ID Theft
How can you protect yourself from getting your identity stolen? We suggest investing in a proper antivirus program. With frequent updates, you minimize the risk of spyware or keyloggers significantly.
Avoid suspicious links, even if they’re coming from friends or family members. If the person messaging you sounds weird (yeah, I know it’s subjective), keep in mind their account may have been compromised.
Knowing more about ID theft will keep you safe from identity fraud. We suggest learning about the different scams the perpetrators might try to pull and the variety of ways you can protect yourself from them. You should start by going through our article on the subject.
At the end of the day, hopefully our article has helped you take control of your data. That way, the grubby little thief’s shirt collection will forever remain unfinished. Although cartoons show prisoners wearing striped uniforms, you can feel better knowing he’s most likely dressed in orange and feeling much less sharp.
Alright, so you learned how to check for identity theft. You discovered various ways to secure your accounts. That way thieves will think twice before trying to take you on!
Until next time!