Identity thieves can cause so many problems for you. They can make off with the money in your bank accounts, commit crimes and give the cops your information, steal your benefits, or use your health insurance. If you don’t know what signs to watch out for, you won’t be able to tell when you’ve become a victim – and the sooner you catch identity theft, the easier it will be to recover from.
You need to be on the alert for strange new accounts on your credit reports, bills for services you haven’t purchased, missing mail, and other signs that your identity has been stolen. If you think your identity has been stolen, you need to check your credit report. Then you need to report the crime to the police and start working towards recovering your identity, your credit, and your good name.
It can be hard to know when your identity has been stolen, not least of all because identity thieves often take care to make sure their victims don’t find out about the theft. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to use an identity monitoring service. Identity monitoring and theft restoration are often included in premium antivirus suites – for example, Trend Micro offers ID security as part of its Premium Security Suite.
If you’re using an identity monitoring service, then you’ll be notified as soon as your Social Security number or other private information is used by someone else. Otherwise, you’ll need to watch out for:
- Charges to your bank account or credit cards that you didn’t authorize;
- New accounts that you haven’t opened appearing on your credit report under your name;
- Unexpected changes in your credit score;
- Unexpected denial of loan or credit card applications;
- Calls from debt collectors when you aren’t behind on payments;
- Missing mail;
- Mail at your address using a different name;
- Bills for medical services that you didn’t receive;
- Tax returns filed under your name, without your knowledge;
- Warrants for your arrest when you didn’t commit a crime; and
- Errors on your Social Security Statement.
These can all be signs that someone has stolen your identity. Furthermore, if your data was stolen in a data breach, you’re at risk for identity theft even if you haven’t yet seen any of these other signs.
If you’ve noticed some of the signs of identity theft, you’ll want to check your credit report. New accounts that you didn’t open, collection items filed in your name, and other discrepancies, such as civil court judgments, will appear on your credit report. You’ll need to go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get copies of your credit reports from the three major reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You’ll also need to go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount to see your Social Security Statement and check whether anyone has been using your Social Security number to work illegally.
When you discover you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you need to take prompt action to mitigate the damage. The first thing you should do is file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You will need one in order to file a police report and to get an extended fraud alert put on your file with the credit reporting bureaus. When you go to the police station, take with you proof of your address, your government-issued ID, your FTC report, a copy of the FTC’s memo to law enforcement, and any proof you have that your identity has been stolen.
Once you have a police report in hand, you can start notifying the businesses and institutions involved that you have been the victim of identity theft and that any accounts you may have opened with them are not authorized by you. Place a fraud alert on your accounts by calling at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus and letting them know that you’ve been the victim of identity theft. You may even want to have them place a freeze on your credit so that no one can open new accounts in your name.
Notifying one bureau that you want to put a fraud alert on your report or freeze your credit will prompt all three bureaus to do it.) Dispute fraudulent charges to your credit cards and report the theft to any other agency or company that needs to know, including Medicare or Medicaid; federal, state, and local tax authorities; and your health insurance company.
Has your identity been stolen? Know the warning signs so that you can take action to repair your credit and protect your accounts. There’s no need to let identity theft ruin your life.