Identity theft can happen when you least expect it.
And unfortunately, it happens more often than you may think. According to the Insurance Information Institution, the FTC received 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020, up a staggering 45% from 3.3 million in 2019.
How did this happen? It’s primarily due to the 113% increase in identity theft complaints. To make sure this doesn’t happen, everyone should be armed with knowing if their identity has been stolen.
Unlike some threats, identity theft has specific warning signs, and it’s in your best interest to arm yourself with this knowledge.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission. If a hacker has access to your name, address, credit card number, banking information, or Social Security Number, the malicious individual could use them to:
• Buy expensive items with your credit card
• Open new credit cards in your name
• Use your health insurance for pricey medical procedures
• Steal your tax refund
And that’s just the tip of the identity theft iceberg. No matter who you are, it’s in your best interest to know the signs that your identity has been stolen so that you can prevent identity theft from happening to you.
Signs your identity has been stolen
To protect yourself against identity theft, there are specific warning signs and red flags you can look out for. Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time, so it’s in your best interest to know what to be aware of and what constitutes a red flag.
1. Unusual credit card activity
The first thing you can do to prevent identity theft is to check your credit card activity and banking statements. Whether you view your monthly bank and credit card statements online or a physical copy in the mail, read through every transaction. Even if there’s something small or inexpensive that you don’t remember purchasing, this can be the red flag that signals identity theft. Not every scammer will start with large or expensive purchases. Some start small to verify the credit card is active and can be used.
If something looks unusual, call your bank or credit card company immediately. Be ready to dispute the charges, open a new bank account, or get a new credit card. These signs are especially important to know because according to the Federal Trade Commission, credit card fraud is the most common kind of identity theft.
2. Frequent phone calls from debt collectors
Random unknown numbers or annoying telemarketers calling you can be frustrating, but pay attention to persistent calls from collection agencies you’ve never heard of. If this starts happening, a scammer may have spent thousands of dollars in debt in your name.
If you’ve forgotten to be diligent about checking your bank or credit card statements, this is another sign that your credit card has been stolen or your bank account has been hacked. This can also happen if you’ve lost your wallet and the person who found it has stolen your identity.
The next time a debt collector calls you, don’t let it go to voicemail.
3. Your income tax statement isn’t accurate
Another sure sign your identity has been stolen is your income tax return isn’t making sense. Tax fraud happens all year — not just during tax season. In fact, it’s most common at the start of a new year, before you’ve filed taxes with the IRS. Someone who has stolen your identity may choose to report income that qualifies you for a tax return. Once they cash the check, they disappear.
There are specific warning signs here to look out for. First, it should be a red flag to you if a tax return has been filed on your behalf. Or if you receive tax forms, like a W2, from a company you don’t recognize or have never worked for. Consider going one step further in identity theft prevention and reviewing your tax return status on the IRS website.
Once tax season does come around, another warning sign to be aware of is issues filling your taxes. If a thief has your Social Security Number or other personal details, they could use this information to file early as they impersonate you. If you’re unable to file your taxes, it could be because your identity has been stolen.
4. Issues with medical bills
As you make it part of your routine to check credit card statements and banking information, don’t forget about incoming medical bills.
If a scammer received medical treatment using your identity, you’d be the one billed for the treatment, care, or tests. If an unusual medical bill comes in the mail that includes treatment you never needed, reach out to your insurance company or healthcare provider immediately.
In addition to medical bills, you’ll always want to look out for the identity theft sign of your insurance company contacting you regarding your benefits limit. A red flag and warning sign to be aware of is the medical claim you’re filing for the care you did receive being denied due to a message from your healthcare provider.
This type of identity theft occurs when a thief has posed as you to receive healthcare under your insurance policy, which depletes your coverage, leaving you uncovered for the care or treatment you need.
5. Missing or unexpected physical mail
Another warning sign your identity has fallen into the wrong hands is that you’re being sent suspicious items in the mail, or the usual things you’re used to receiving stop being sent. The next time you go to your mailbox, double-check for credit card statements or letters from agencies you don’t recognize. If you start to notice this, someone could be applying for credit cards or loans in your name.
Similarly, missing physical mail is a sign you should look out for, too. While some identity thieves prefer to operate out of sight, some will still package right off your front porch or mail from your mailbox. Some may take it one step further by requesting a change of address. If you’re expecting a new credit card in the mail or a replacement Social Security card, take the extra precaution of monitoring your mailbox for these documents.
The more you know
If you think identity theft can’t happen to you, think again. The first step to protecting against identity theft is knowing the signs. The second step? Find a trusted ID theft protection service to keep your identity safe with extensive monitoring of your personal information, accounts, IDs, and more. From securing your online accounts to preventing financial loss against fraud, the best offense is a great defense.