Update: The Equifax data breach potentially affects 143 million Americans, and some of the data that may have been compromised include drivers license numbers, social security numbers and credit card numbers.
Freezing your credit is the first step to protecting your accounts and your personal data. You can visit any of the credit bureau websites and freeze your credit for 90 days so that no one can open fraudulent accounts in your name. You can also use Credit Sesame’s free identity theft protection after you sign up.
When you fall prey to a burglar or a robber, you usually know right away that you are the victim of a crime. If you’re the victim of identity theft, however, you may not know that your identification is stolen until long after the theft occurs. To minimize the damage that an identity thief can cause, it is important to detect the crime early and take action as soon as you realize there is a problem.
The signs of identity theft are not always hard to spot and knowing the 10 red flags to watch out for is a good first step to stopping identity thieves in their tracks.
The 10 red flags of identity theft
1. You notice withdrawals from your checking account that you know you didn’t make
This is often the first warning sign of identity theft that you’ll encounter. When viewing a copy of your bank statement, you may notice a purchase, electronic transaction, check, or cash withdrawal that you don’t recognize. Before it happens, find out how your bank handles checking account identity theft. You may be able to implement security measures that prevent crime from happening in the first place.
2. You check your credit report and find accounts that aren’t yours
Although it is not uncommon to see inaccurate information on a credit report, such as a closed credit card account still showing as open, a new account that you didn’t open is a sign of identity theft. Make sure to check your credit inquiries as well, since this is often a sign that an identity thief has attempted to open a new account in your name. (You can get a free credit report summary on Credit Sesame and look for suspicious accounts right now.)
3. You receive phone calls or letters from collection agencies about delinquent debt that isn’t yours
If collection agencies are hounding you for delinquent debt that you know doesn’t belong to you, it’s a big red flag for identity theft. Interestingly, this is one red flag that may also point to another type of crime known as a debt collection scam. When this is the case, the scammer tries to trick you into believing that you are responsible for a debt, and even threatens to have you arrested if you do not pay. When this crime occurs, the scammer will typically try to intimidate you into making a payment, or attempt to extract personal information from you. Protect yourself by knowing your debt collection rights.
4. The IRS won’t accept your tax return because they say you have already filed one
The tax refund scam is not only the most prevalent type of tax fraud right now, but also one of the simplest. The identity thief steals your identity, files a tax return in your name and then collects a refund straight from the IRS. This type of identity theft shows up later when you go to file your taxes and the IRS refuses to accept your tax return because their records will show that you have already filed one.
5. You receive a notice that a store or business you have made a purchase from has had a data breach
A letter from your bank or local merchant explaining that your credit card or debit card information may have been stolen is usually the first indication that you are a victim of a data breach. When a data breach does occur, the business may offer to pay for free credit monitoring, or even a freeze on your credit file, which will block the identity thieves from using your credit report to apply for credit cards or loans in your name.
6. You receive medical bills for medical procedures you haven’t had and doctors you haven’t been to
Medical identity theft is one of the more serious types of identity theft you may encounter because thieves can rack up hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of medical bills in a short amount of time. You may even discover that your insurance won’t pay for your own needed medical expenses because the thieves have used up your allowed medical benefits. This particular type of identity theft could harm you in the future if the thief’s medical information ends up mingled in with your own personal medical records.
7. You are unexpectedly denied for a credit card or loan even though you have always had a good credit history
If you haven’t checked your credit report card in a while, but believe your credit history is good, a denial may be a red flag that your identity was stolen. A check of your credit report will show any discrepancies, but remember too that if you are denied credit, you are entitled to receive notification as to why you were turned down. You can request a free copy of the report the decision was based on.
8. You discover a credit card or series of checks from your checkbook are missing
You may think that if a credit card or series of checks from your checkbook “go missing” while you are at home that you have simply misplaced them somewhere in the house. This red flag could also alert you that something bigger is afoot. Although 51 percent of identity theft is committed by a stranger, about 34 percent of fraud cases involve a family member, friend, or neighbor and can happen inside your own home.
9. You receive a credit card in the mail that you did not request
It may seem like a simple mistake, but an unsolicited credit card that arrives in the mail could indicate that someone has applied for a credit card using your name. A welcome letter from a credit card company that you don’t recall contacting is a sign of identity theft.
10. Bills and other mail don’t arrive in your mailbox
Whether it’s a credit card statement, utility bill, or bank statement, not receiving your mail is never a good thing. This could indicate that either an identity thief has changed your mailing address or that they are stealing the mail out of your mailbox.
How to lower the chance that you’ll be a victim of identity theft
>>Check your credit report on a regular basis
>>Get identity theft protection to help monitor your credit
>>Report any unusual activity on your bank or credit card statement
>>Remember that even a small charge or withdrawal could indicate that there is a bigger problem
>>Don’t wait to take action if you suspect something is wrong