More than 41 million Americans have been victims of identity theft. That’s a scary statistic. Identity theft can put your finances at risk and hurt your credit. And, unfortunately, many of the initial warning signs aren’t exactly obvious. So how can you protect yourself and what should you look out for? Here are 5 warning signs to keep on your radar.
1. Surprise Transactions
It’s a good idea to check your credit card and bank statements regularly. Your bank may issue alerts if they suspect someone else is using your account, but you should keep an eye out as well. If someone has your account information, they may be making withdrawals and charges or even selling your account number. Tools like mobile wallets can help you track your account and set up purchase notifications. At the first sign of transactions that you didn’t make, or the moment you realize your credit card has been lost or stolen, take these steps immediately:
- If your card offers a lock feature, use it to prevent further access to your card
- Call your issuer to report fraud on your account
If you’ve confirmed that your identity has been stolen, you may also want to contact one of the 3 credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will require lenders to take extra precautions before opening new lines of credit in your name. And for a personal recovery plan, report the theft to identitytheft.gov. They’ll walk you through every step of the recovery process and help you track progress.
2. Disappearing Financial Statements
Thieves can get ahold of your personal information by stealing credit card and bank statements right out of your mailbox. To protect yourself from mail fraud, keep track of your utility bills and one-time statements like medical bills.
If you notice a monthly bill is missing, reach out to the company immediately to make sure it was sent. Once you’ve confirmed your mail has been stolen, you might also want to file a police report.
3. Strange Debt Collection Calls
If someone creates an account in your name for a credit card or service, they probably won’t pay the bill, and you’ll be contacted by debt collectors. In many cases, the calls will come from a company hired to collect the outstanding debt, and they won’t be able to help resolve the real issue at hand—your identity being stolen. So, if a debt collector contacts you about a debt that isn’t yours, reach out directly to the company issuing the bill.
4. Mysterious Additions to Your Credit Report
Check your credit report regularly. If someone has your personal information—like your Social Security number (SSN)—they may be able to open an account in your name. If you see an account that you didn’t open on your credit report, act fast. Addressing it before it has defaulted can reduce the damage to your credit score.
5. Unexplainable tax filings
Identity thieves may use your SSN to apply for jobs under your name. Unfortunately, you may not know about it until the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) contacts you about taxes on wages from employers that you’ve never worked for. Visit the Social Security Administration’s website to see what earnings have been posted to your statement. It’s best to resolve tax issues ASAP, as they could lead to fines and get in the way of your tax refund.
If you ever receive an email, text or message on social media about taxes, contact the IRS immediately. The IRS won’t contact you electronically to request financial information.4 And as always, be careful about who you share personal information with online to help keep your identity safe.