Identity Theft Personal Finance

10 Signs Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Erica Sandberg
Written by Erica Sandberg

It’s easy to go about your business, not paying attention to what could be seething below the surface. You take out loans and credit cards, use them responsibly, do your taxes, pick up your mail and conduct all other normal tasks. Unfortunately, while you are assuming that everything is as it should be, thieves can run-amuck. It’s time to pay attention. Here are ten signs that somebody might have (or definitely did) steal your identity.

  1. Your bank notifies you that your account has been compromised. Getting a call or message from your bank that your account has been compromised is an obvious signal that something is wrong. Some people, though, ignore even that. Don’t. Call your bank back as soon as possible to rectify the problem. Someone might have bought your account information off the dark web after a business has been hacked, and then they did, will use it quickly. The crime is usually caught by the financial institution before you even know anything is a mess. If so, good news. Your account will be flagged. Any transactions that are still in process will cease. You will not be responsible for any of them, either. The bank will render the accuse unusable and issuer you a different card with new numbers.
  2. Your cell phone stops working. If you go to make a call and your phone has no signal, your first thought mostly certainly won’t be identity theft. Think again. A thief might have pretended to be you at a phone store, asking to upgrade the model. The phone number would then be transferred to the new phone, which deactivated your SIM card. The employee of the store might have neglected to check the person’s identification. You, however, get the bills. If this happens to you, sorting it out will be a big mess, involving the phone store and completing identity theft reports with the Federal Trade Commission.
  3. Snail mail isn’t getting to you. If you are accustomed to getting correspondence from banks and other businesses and you’re suddenly not, thieves might have changed your address so it’s diverted to them. With the information listed in that mail, they can use your credit cards and open fresh accounts. Then that can change the accounts up but you won’t know about the problem until the financial institutions finally tracked you down for nonpayment. If you miss even a month’s worth of mail, contact the companies that send it to you and check. You also may want to put an end to paper and switch over to online statements.
  4. Bills for things that you didn’t purchase come in. Receive a bill for an item that you did not buy or receive? It may not be the company’s mistake, so don’t toss it aside. Contact both the retailer and the creditors the person used to shut the fraud down. The Fair Credit Billing Act stipulates that you won’t be responsible of any of the unauthorized charges, but take action immediately. You don’t want a thief to get anything else he or she does not deserve.
  5. You’ve hit your limit or have no cash left. There you are, shopping away, and you hand over your credit card or debit card to the cashier. She shakes her head, saying, “sorry, your card has been declined.” One quick call to the bank and you discover that your checking account has been drained or the balance on your credit card has had it’s limit.
  6. Collectors are calling for mysterious accounts. If a fraudster has opened an account in your name to buy something and you haven’t received a bill because the mail didn’t get to you, the unpaid debt could end up at a collection agency. Eventually, the collector will find you and start asking for money. Don’t say, “wrong number.” Ask them to send you verification of the debt. Then get a copy of your credit report. If it’s on there, your identity has been stolen. Again, follow the FTC’s identity theft reporting process. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, as well. It can help prevent future fraud.
  7. Your credit score suddenly plummets. It’s a good idea to sign up for getting your credit scores along with your credit card bills. If you notice that one day your score changes radically, say 735 to 523, something is surely amiss. Payments have not been made or huge balances have been acquired. Start checking all of your accounts and credit reports to identify the error. Do as soon as possible. Once the accounts are flagged for fraud, they won’t be factored into your credit scores while the investigation is conducted, which takes 30 days. Assuming they will find in your favor, those accounts will be purged from your reports and your scores will revert to what they should be.
  8. Mysterious activity on your credit reports. It is recommended that you check your credit reports at least once a year. The best way to do this is to stagger them. There are three major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Pull your report from one company in January, another in June, and the third in October. This way you’ll have a steady stream of credit reporting information without having to pay for extra copies. Read them carefully. If you see any credit cards or loans that you did not apply for (in the inquiries section) or that have been opened, (in the trade lines section) odds are you’ve been hit by a thief.
  9. You are turned down for a loan or line of credit. As far as you know, your credit rating was just fine. You charged with your credit cards but always paid on time and never kept a balance, and your loans are all in good standing. But when you applied for more credit, you were turned down. Why? Because a thief has ruined your credit rating by using your accounts. Finding out when you want to refinance a mortgage or buy a car is horrible.
  10. You did not get your tax refund. Large scale data breaches are all too real, and the Internal Revenue Service was one of the victims. These breaches expose your most personal financial information the very worst of identity thieves. You’ll have a decent idea that you were the downstream victim of such a theft if you don’t get an expected tax refund. Someone else might have filed a fraudulent tax return for you, and made off with the money.

None of this should cause you to stay awake at night, wondering if identity thieves are getting ready to strike. Just be aware and then spring into action if you spot anything out of the ordinary.

About the author

Erica Sandberg

Erica Sandberg

Erica Sandberg is a freelance editor at large, reporter, and advice columnist covering all things fundamental finance. She’s been KRON-TV’s on-air money and credit expert for over 15 years, and has appeared on virtually every national news show, from Fox to CNN. She hosts Making it with Erica, a video program highlighting ways to live adventurously on any budget.

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