Read the Signs - How to Know if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Identity theft is becoming more and more common. According to recent statistics, 49 million Americans became victims of identity fraud last year, losing a collective $56 billion.

For criminals, stealing your identity is, unfortunately, not that difficult.

In some cases, it’s as easy as stealing your wallet with your driver’s license in it, or buying your personal information on the dark web after a data breach.

The most important thing to do if your identity has been stolen is to react quickly. The sooner you take action, the better you can limit the damage.

But how exactly do you know that you’re a victim of identity theft? We’re all inundated with so many messages - many of them spam - that it’s hard to know what’s suspicious.

Here are five warning signs to watch out for.

Suspicious Charges on Your Credit Card

First off, the most frequent sign of identity theft are dubious charges on your credit card.

Something is showing up on your statement that you don’t remember buying? Follow up immediately. It might be that you misremembered, or that a charge showed up under an unfamiliar name.

But it’s also possible that someone is using your credit card information for their own purchases.

If you react quickly, you can flag the transaction with your credit card company, and make sure that it goes no further.

That’s why it’s always worth keeping an eye on your credit card statement. Additionally, you could install your credit card provider’s app to keep track of charges in real time.

Your Credit Rating Changes

Another massive red flag for identity theft is when your credit rating suddenly changes.

Tracking credit ratings is nobody’s favorite free time activity. But taking the time every month to check in on your credit score is absolutely worth it.

For example, if an identity thief orders a new credit card from a different provider, it won’t be reflected in your current credit card statement. However, your credit score will suffer.

In the worst case scenario, you won’t notice this until you’re trying to get a loan for a car or a house - and the bank flat-out refuses.

Access Notifications from Online Accounts

Security settings on online accounts can be bothersome. And it’s easy to ignore notifications emails about logins from new devices. Especially if you’re maintaining or even sharing multiple accounts.

But these notifications might hold invaluable clues that point towards identity theft.

If you get a notification out of the blue that a new device was used to access one of your accounts, follow up. Even if it’s likely just a family member or friend using your credentials.

Here, too, it’s essential to act quickly. If someone did indeed steal your access information, they might change your password and lock you out of your own account.

You Get Suspicious Texts and (Physical) Mail

A final sign of identity theft are suspicious texts, emails, and physical mail. Specifically, those messages pertaining to private and financial information.

Are you getting unexpected texts with verification codes? Letters delivered to your house under someone else’s name? Emails from debt collectors claiming you owe them money?

Don’t ignore it if this happens. Instead, do some background research on the person or company who contacted you to see if you’re looking at plain old spam, or an indicator of identity theft.

What to Do Next

If you detect one or more of the red flags outlined above, you need to take action.

First, check in with your identity theft protection service or insurance, if you have it. They will guide you through the process.

Then, notify companies and people in your social network that your identity has been stolen.

Next, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department. On the financial side, freeze your credit, set up a fraud alert on your credit reports, and carefully go over your recent statements.

Finally, tighten the security on all of your accounts. This means changing passwords to increase their complexity and enabling two-factor authentication. Consider getting a password manager if you’re not using one already.

In today’s virtual world, identity theft is a constant threat. But by staying vigilant and keeping an eye out for red flags, you’ll be able to recognize it straight away. And take counter-measures to minimize the damage.
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