Unlike with other crimes, it’s entirely possible for you to be a victim of identity theft and not even know it. If someone breaks into your home or car, you’ll likely spot evidence of the crime right away—broken glass, perhaps, or missing property. Identity thieves commit a different type of crime that can go unnoticed until long after you’re a victim. And the time and effort to fix the damage can be significant.
Check out these 10 warning signs of identity theft. They don’t all point directly to identity theft, but each is an indicator that something could be—or is—amiss, and you should take note or action if one rings a bell for you.
- An unfamiliar loan or credit account on your credit report
It makes sense to review your credit reports regularly, looking for unfamiliar activity. You can get one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—once a year at annualcreditreport.com.
- An inexplicable denial of credit
If you’ve been denied credit—either for a new credit card or a bank loan—and don’t understand why, it could be because an identity thief has played havoc with your credit history without your knowledge. This is another reason to review your credit reports regularly. (See Warning Sign 1.)
- Bills for accounts you know nothing about
If you receive a bill for a credit card you don’t have, it could be because an identity thief opened a new account using your information—including your mailing address. Contact the card issuer immediately, and also check your credit reports to see if the new account also showed up there. If so, you may have to dispute your credit report. Here’s how.
- An unexpected drop in your credit score
If you take pride in your high credit score, you likely don’t want anything to tarnish it. If you see your score drop unexpectedly, find out why. Has someone opened new accounts in your name without your knowledge—perhaps running up the balances while they were at it?
- Collections agency calls for overdue accounts you know nothing about
It’s easy to ignore telephone calls when you don’t recognize the number or Caller ID, but what if it’s a bill collector asking for payment on an account you never opened? Once again, it pays to keep an eye on your credit reports for unfamiliar activity.
- The IRS tells you someone has already filed an income tax return using your Social Security number
If you try to file your income tax return and the IRS says it’s already been filed, you may have a problem on your hand: tax-related identity theft. If that’s the case, you have some work to do. The Internal Revenue Service has information that may be helpful. Pro tip: Try to beat the crooks to the punch by filing your tax return as early as possible in the tax year.
- Missing mail
If you don’t receive postal mail you’re expecting, it could be someone’s getting to your mailbox before you are. Identity thieves still resort to age-old tricks like stealing mail and dumpster diving to put their hands on important documents. Make sure you have a secure mailbox that only you and the post office can access. Oh, and shred documents containing personal information before throwing them in the trash.
- Your Social Security statements show earnings that aren’t yours
It’s not unusual for someone who doesn’t have a Social Security number to use someone else’s when starting a new job. This is illegal, of course. That’s why it makes sense to confirm that the income noted on your Social Security account is yours. On the agency’s website, you can sign up for a “My Social Security” account that lets you monitor your statement, looking for any reported income that’s not yours.
- A job opportunity unexpectedly falls through after a prospective employer runs a credit check
You had your heart set on that new career opportunity, then your prospective new employer ran a credit check on you—and decided not to make you an offer. What happened? This possibility is yet another reason to keep an eye on your credit reports to make sure the activity it reflects is yours. An identity thief who plays havoc with your credit history may cost you more than just a new credit card.
- An unexpected notice from your health insurance company that you’ve reached your benefit limit
You haven’t used your health insurance that much, but somehow the company doesn’t want to pay for any more of your healthcare. Why? It could be that an identity thief is using your healthcare information to obtain medical treatment. Given the cost of such care, serious illnesses or surgical procedures could quickly exhaust your coverage.
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