How would you feel if someone else pretended to be you online? That’s essentially what identity theft is, and it can happen to any of us.
You have something very important that makes you who you are – your digital identity. It’s like a puzzle made of pieces of your personal information, financial transactions and online interactions.
Unfortunately, like anything of value, it isn’t immune to theft. Bad people want to steal your identity and use it to commit fraud and rob you blind.
Identity theft is a serious threat that can be hard to detect. However, you can look for some clues that someone is trying to steal your identity and take steps to protect yourself.
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Signs of identity theft and ways to prevent it
1. Unfamiliar credit card charges
Unexpected charges on your credit card statement are one of the earliest warning signs of identity theft. Even small, seemingly insignificant purchases can be a thief testing the waters before a full-blown shopping spree.
What to do?
I recommend you regularly review your statements, and if you spot unrecognized transactions, contact your bank to dispute these charges and secure your account.
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Woman finding out that she has unfamiliar credit card charges. ( )
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2. Missing bills
If you notice that your regular bills or correspondence aren’t showing up, it might be because an identity thief has redirected your mail to another address. It’s a cunning move to keep you in the dark about their illicit activities.
What to do?
Regularly monitor your bills. If they stop arriving, contact your service providers to confirm their mailing addresses on file.
3. Sudden surge of junk mail
If you’ve been targeted, you might notice a significant increase in unsolicited credit card offers or pre-approved loans. This could indicate that someone has been checking your credit history without your knowledge.
What to do?
You can reduce such junk mail by opting out of prescreened credit offers and consider instituting a credit freeze to prevent unauthorized credit accounts. When you place a security freeze, creditors cannot access your credit report. This will keep them from approving any new credit account in your name, whether it is fraudulent or legitimate. While this can be an effective deterrent, it comes with the hassle of negotiating access each and every time you apply for credit.
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How to freeze your credit report for free
Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies to submit your request online, by phone or by mail.
Note: To let lenders and other companies access your credit files again to create new accounts, you will need to lift your credit freeze permanently or temporarily.
4. Unexpected IRS notifications
If the IRS flags multiple tax returns filed in your name or if you’re declared as an employee in a place you’ve never worked, it’s a telltale sign that someone is misusing your social security number.
What to do?
Report these incidents to the IRS immediately, and follow their guidance, which may include completing an Identity Theft Affidavit.
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Woman stressed out at receiving IRS notifications. ( )
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5. Unexplained changes in your credit score
Regular credit checks are your friend. Notice an unexpected plummet in your credit score. It may indicate that an identity thief has been opening credit accounts or making large purchases in your name, and worse, they don’t pay the bills.
What to do?
Regularly monitor your credit score. If it drops suddenly, contact the credit bureau to dispute inaccuracies and set up credit-monitoring services.
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6. Unrecognized accounts on your credit report
An unexpected loan or credit account appearing on your credit report is a glaring sign of identity theft.
What to do?
Such anomalies should be immediately investigated with the credit bureau and the respective financial institution and reported to the FTC.
If you want a service that will walk you through every step of the reporting and recovery process, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from this type of fraud is to subscribe to an identity theft service.
Identity theft-protection companies can monitor personal information like your Home title, Social Security Number (SSN), phone number, and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals.
One of the best parts of using some services is that they might include identity theft insurance of up to one million dollars to cover losses and legal fees and a white glove fraud-resolution team where a U.S.-based case manager helps you recover any losses.
See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft here
7. Denied medical claims
If you’re suddenly informed that you’ve reached your limit for a medical claim, it might mean that a fraudster has used your insurance details. Similarly, notices about unknown medical conditions or procedures could indicate that your medical identity has been compromised.
What to do?
Notice something fishy? Alert your healthcare provider and insurance company. Scrutinize your explanation of benefits (EOB) and report any services you didn’t receive.
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Woman on the phone, finding out that she has been denied her medical claims. ( )
8. Calls from debt collectors
Unexpected calls from debt collectors about unpaid bills for products or services you never bought can signal identity theft. An identity thief may have used your details to make purchases, leaving you with the bill.
What to do?
Request validation of the debt, dispute it with the creditor, report the situation to the credit bureaus, and file a complaint with the FTC if you suspect you’re a victim of such theft.
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9. Unexpected contact from financial institutions
Be wary of unsolicited contact from financial institutions you have no relationship with. If a bank you’ve never used before sends you a notice, someone may have opened an account using your stolen identity.
What to do?
Contact the institution to close the fraudulent account, notify your local law enforcement, and report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you think this has happened to you.
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Woman sitting at her computer and finding out that she has been scammed. ( )
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10. Irrelevant job offers
Unsolicited job offers, especially ones that seem irrelevant to your field or too good to be true, may indicate that someone is using your personal information to search for jobs or build a false identity.
What to do?
If you suspect that the job offer is fraudulent or part of a scam, report it to the relevant authorities. You can contact your local law enforcement agency or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
I’ve been scammed! What to do next?
Below are some next steps to take if you find you or your loved one is a victim of identity theft.
- If you can regain control of your accounts, change your passwords and inform the account provider.
- Look through bank statements and checking account transactions to see where outlier activity started.
- Use identity theft protection: Identity theft-protection companies can monitor personal information like your home title, Social Security Number (SSN), phone number and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals. One of the best parts of using some services is that they might include identity theft insurance of up to one million dollars to cover losses and legal fees and a white glove fraud resolution team where a U.S.-based case manager helps you recover any losses. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.
- Report any breaches to state and local law enforcement and government agencies.
- Get the professional advice of a lawyer before speaking to law enforcement, especially when you are dealing with criminal identity theft. Seek legal advice if being a victim of criminal identity leaves you unable to secure employment or housing.
- Alert all three major credit bureaus, and possibly place a fraud alert on your credit report.
- Run your own background check or request a copy of one if that is how you discovered that your information has been used by a criminal.
If you are a victim of identity theft, the most important thing to do is to take immediate action to mitigate the damage and prevent further harm.
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Kurt’s key takeaways
In our daily stroll through the digital park, we’ve encountered some menacing signs of identity theft. While it’s important to be aware of the potential pitfalls, it’s equally vital to remember that these online spaces are not all doom and gloom. After all, they’re the same avenues that allow us to connect, share, and explore like never before.
It’s all about learning to walk these paths with our eyes wide open and with as much resilience to fend off all the bad stuff targeting our lives more and more online.
The whole idea is not just about reacting to the signs of identity theft but anticipating and arming ourselves against it. It’s about taking the steering wheel of our digital lives into our hands and driving with confidence, not apprehension.
Instead of just being cautious about potential dangers, what proactive measures are you considering to safeguard your digital identity? Do you have an online safety routine? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.
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