Identity theft can come in many forms, and criminals often make small moves hoping to fly under the radar before going in for a bigger strike. Unfortunately, by then it could be too late to recover if you’ve missed the smaller signs leading up to identity theft.
Here are some potential red flags that could mean your identity has been stolen:
1. Odd Charges on Statements
Many people have several different bank accounts
in their name. This total typically includes at least one checking account
, savings account
, credit card, and retirement
account. It is vitally important to keep tabs on each of your accounts. Although you may not use them all regularly, you should check your account statements and balances at least once a month.
If you see a suspicious charge or something that doesn’t look familiar, contact your financial institution immediately. They can provide you with additional information so you can determine whether a charge is legitimate or fraudulent. If you do suspect fraud or unauthorized activity on your account, your financial institution can put a hold on it for you.
If an account is compromised by a criminal, they’ll often start by removing very small amounts of money from it. They do this to test if the transactions will be successful. Be on the lookout for all unrecognized charges, no matter how tiny. You can also help get ahead of fraudulent charges by setting up real-time alerts and notifications
in your accounts.
2. Missing Bills or Notices
Another tactic used by identity thieves is rerouting your mailing address or email address to their own. If they’re able to successfully do so, they’ll receive the alerts or bills for your account while you’ll have no idea that fraudulent charges are going through. Gaining access to your emails also enables them to receive any verification codes that may be sent to you if you have multi-factor authentication
set up for your account. If you think you are missing bills or notices that you typically receive in the mail, you can check with the USPS
to see if your mail is being forwarded.
3. Unfamiliar Bills or Notices
If you receive an unexpected bill in the mail, or a notice referencing a company or account you don’t recognize, consider it a red flag. It could be a sign that an account was opened in your name, or that something was fraudulently purchased using your information. Call the company using their publicly listed telephone number to get to the bottom of why you’re receiving the notice. Don’t trust the phone number listed in an unsolicited or unrecognized mailing, as it could be a phishing scam
4. Your Card Gets Declined
A declined debit card
or credit card transaction that comes as a surprise should be an instant red flag. If a crook has gotten their hands on your card information and used it to rack up fraudulent purchases, your card could be declined due to insufficient funds, because it’s maxed out, or because your financial institution locked it due to suspicious activity.
If this happens, you can check your account activity through your online banking account or through your bank’s mobile app to see if you notice anything alarming. Then, contact your financial institution as soon as possible. They can help you take further action and get to the root of the problem. If they believe your identity could be at risk, they can also help guide you through next steps
5. Debt Collectors Start Calling
If you receive a phone call or notice from a debt collector, and you know you don’t owe any money, consider it a red flag. Never pay a debt you aren’t aware of or give out any of your financial or personal information without first verifying that the debt, and the requestor, is legitimate. Keep in mind that such communications could be from crooks impersonating a debt collector. You could also receive calls from real debt collectors if your identity was stolen. With the right information, crooks can open a credit card or even take out a loan in your name.
If you receive unexpected communications from debt collectors, you should start by checking your credit report. You can pull a copy of your credit report for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com
. If there is an unfamiliar account, credit inquiry
, or anything else alarming on your report, you should contact the company the account or inquiry originated from, as well as all three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert
on your account.
6. A Medical Claim is Denied
It’s also possible for a crook to steal your health insurance information
. This is sometimes done to get prescriptions issued in your name that the criminal can then resell for a profit. If you see that your legitimate claims are being denied, or you receive medical bills from doctors and pharmacies you don't know, it could be a sign of such a scam.
If you notice any suspicious activity regarding your health insurance, contact your provider immediately. They can help you get to the bottom of any claim denials or instruct you on how to dispute fraudulent claims or charges. If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to a health insurance scam, review your other accounts (including bank accounts and credit card accounts) to see if they could have been impacted as well.
7. Issues with Taxes
If you are notified about filed taxes
when you have not yet completed them, or if you are unable to file your taxes because of a duplicate filing, it could be a sign that someone filed a fraudulent return with your name and social security number. Scammers could steal your identity and claim major deductions to walk away with a huge refund. If you suspect this has happened, follow the steps outlined on the IRS.gov website
8. You Receive a Notice About Unemployment
Just as scammers can file a fraudulent tax return in your name, they could also file for unemployment
or other government benefits under your name if they have the right personal information. Unemployment scams such as these have become increasingly popular since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you fall victim to this scam, you may receive mail from a government agency about your unemployment benefits claim. In some cases, your employer may be the one who receives a request about an unemployment claim in your name.
If you notice any of these signs of identity theft, take immediate action. Even if it turns out that a suspected scam was a legitimate charge or communication, being overly cautious could save you from a significant loss.
Due to our technology driven
lifestyles, scammers can gain the information they need for identity theft in many ways. To minimize your chances of falling victim, be aware of these common tactics for stealing personal information:
- Phishing: A crook can send an email or text message, or call you, claiming to be from a company you trust. They will then ask you to click a link, log into a website, or provide your personal or financial information.
- Public Wi-Fi: Criminals can intercept information and steal passwords via unsecured internet connections. Never log into a financial account, or send sensitive information over public Wi-Fi.
- Card-Skimmers: Criminals can attach a tiny device to a card reader that steals your credit card or debit card information. Be on the lookout for any card reader that looks suspicious at an ATM machine, gas pump, kiosk, or vending machine.
- A Lost or Stolen Wallet: A criminal can gain access to your personal information by stealing your wallet from your car, restaurant table, or home. You’re also at risk if a lost wallet falls into the wrong hands. You can help protect yourself by minimizing the amount of sensitive information you carry with you. Never keep your social security card or checkbook in your wallet or purse.
- Dumpster Diving: A crook can steal information from a sensitive document that you toss into the trash. Be sure to always shred important files that contain sensitive personal or financial information like account numbers or social security numbers.
- Dark Web: If you’ve previously dealt with a company that had a data breach, it’s possible that your compromised information could be floating around on the dark web. Criminals can buy this breached information, which can consist of bank information, usernames, passwords, phone numbers, social security numbers, and birthdates.
- Social Media: A savvy crook can combine pieces of information you share online to figure out passwords, pins, security question answers, and more. Always be careful about the information you share on social media. Don’t reveal anything sensitive and lock down your privacy settings so only trusted individuals can see what you post.
It is so important to stay vigilant and investigate any red flags that could point to identity theft. Remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your hard-earned funds and your credit history. For more tips on keeping your finances safe, review the latest scams on our Security Alerts
page and read the latest tips in our Security