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How to check for identity theft

9 warning signs of the top identity theft frauds and scams

by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
couple looking at financial bills

Am I a victim of identity theft?

Whether you’re rich or poor, have good credit or no credit, identity thieves can find a way to use your information to commit many types of fraud. Identity thieves can use your information to drain your bank account or run up credit card bills, get medical treatment on your insurance or get a driver’s license in your name. Everyone who has a Social Security number is a potential victim of identity theft.

In the event that you’re a victim of identity theft, it could end up costing you thousands of dollars, and you will likely spend hundreds of hours trying to resolve the issue. Experts all agree that early detection of identity theft can significantly reduce the damage done by fraud.

Warning signs of identity theft

Here’s what to look for if you think an identity thief has targeted you:

  1. A strange charge on your credit card bill
    When reviewing your bank account, do you ever notice a charge that you don’t remember making? Even a small discrepancy can indicate fraud. Sometimes criminals make a test charge just to be sure a transaction will go through before making a bigger move.
  2. Credit card bills stop coming in the mail
    If you didn’t opt-in to paperless billing but some of your mail isn’t showing up, now’s a good time to give that company a call. Identity thieves will file for a change of address to get their hands on your mail. Most of these documents contain sensitive personal information that can be stolen.
  3. Your credit score is going up
    Although this may seem counterintuitive, a rising credit score when you haven’t done anything to earn it can indicate a fraudster is trying to extend credit in your name before running through it.
  4. Your credit score is going down
    There are lots of reasons why your credit score could have gone down, like if you recently applied for a loan or had a bill go into collections. If your credit score has dropped and you can’t explain why, however, you could be a victim of identity theft.
  5. You get a tax transcript that you didn’t request or your electronic tax return is rejected
    Identity thieves will use your information to file a fraudulent tax return with hopes of claiming your refund. In most cases, you won’t find out until a second tax return is filed and rejected by either you or the thief using your identity.
  6. You’re unexpectedly denied for a credit card or loan
    If you thought you had good credit, but then your application for credit is denied, this might be a sign that an identity thief has tampered with your credit history and negatively affected your credit score.
  7. There’s a new account you didn’t open on your credit card
    Identity thieves will apply for credit cards and open new accounts using your name once they have access to your personal information. Most of the time, they’ll try to max out the credit card before the victim notices and the account is closed.
  8. Inaccurate medical records
    It’s possible for someone to steal your identity and use your health benefits without you knowing until you get a bill in the mail or are unexpectedly denied coverage because an identity thief has already maxed out your limit of benefits.
  9. Debt collectors call about accounts you never opened
    If you receive collection calls about debts that you don’t recognize, this is a sign of identity theft. Identity thieves will often use your credit to purchase things, then leave you with the bill.

How to check if your identity has been stolen

  1. Check your credit card statements and bank account
    If you notice any suspicious activity, alert your bank or credit union right away. It’s important to check your statements thoroughly and often.
  2. Run a credit report
    U.S. citizens are entitled to a free one every 12 months. If you don’t want to monitor your credit this yourself, consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service.
  3. Monitor your finances closely
    Keeping a close eye on your finances can help you catch warning signs of identity theft early, which can save you a lot of time, money and stress. Monitoring is just one of the ways to prevent identity theft.
woman checking identity theft on laptop

What should you do if your identity is stolen?

If you think your identity has been stolen, you’ll need to take the appropriate steps to report the identity theft and begin the recovery process. Start by calling your credit card companies and bank right away to freeze the accounts and dispute the charges. You may also want to open new, secure credit cards and bank accounts to eliminate the possibility of more unauthorized charges.

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by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.