Pages

How To Check if Someone Is Using Your Identity

Do you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft? You’re not alone. The number of reported cases of identity theft, which has been rising for decades, has seen a dramatic increase in the past few years.

Source: FTC

But these are only reported cases. A recent survey showed that 47% of Americans had been victims of financial identity theft in the last two years.[*]


Here’s How To Check For Identity Theft

  1. Look for unfamiliar activity on your financial statements.
  2. Check your health insurance records for fraudulent activity.
  3. Review your tax returns for signs of fraud.
  4. Make sure you’re not locked out of sensitive online accounts.
  5. Check for missing physical mail. Confirm no one is stealing it.
  6. Examine your wallet. Ensure your IDs and credit cards are there.
  7. Run a free Dark Web scan.
  8. Here are the most common warning signs that someone is using your identity.

1. Unfamiliar Activity On Your Financial Statements

Most identity thieves have a single goal: to turn your personal information into cash as quickly as possible.

That’s why you should always have a recent copy of your credit report on hand. You should also develop the habit of reviewing your financial statements every month.

It is critical that you learn to recognize the warning signs of identity theft. A recent survey revealed that fewer than half of consumers find out from their financial institutions that they’ve been a victim of identity theft.


Source: Aite-Novarica

There are two key places to check for identity theft: your credit report and your financial statements.

You can get a free credit report from each credit reporting agency including: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) at annualcreditreport.com.

While reviewing your credit history, be sure to look for hard inquiries that you don’t recognize or new accounts that you didn’t open.

For your credit card and bank statements, look closely for any signs of fraudulent activity, no matter how small. Criminals often test stolen cards with a few dollars before attempting larger purchases.

What does this mean for you?

If there’s unusual activity in your credit file, it could mean thieves have stolen your Social Security number (SSN) or other types of personal information that they can use to apply for new credit cards, loans, or even mortgages in your name.

A suspicious purchase noted in your bank or credit card activity could mean your card number has been stolen, and a thief is making unauthorized purchases.

If you notice any of these red flags, you should freeze your credit immediately and report the fraud to your financial institutions.

You may need to cancel accounts where fraud has occurred, as this is a necessary step for effective damage control.

Other signs to watch out for:

  • Mail, emails, or phone calls from virtual phone numbers about credit applications
  • A significant drop in your credit score
  • Calls from debt collectors
  • You’re denied credit for which you should be approved
  • Calls or notifications verifying unfamiliar purchases
  • Credit-related schemes are among the most common types of identity theft.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, scammers have shifted their efforts to more advanced methods.

2. Maxed Out Health Insurance Benefits

If you are denied health insurance coverage or are rejected from government agency benefits like unemployment, it’s a sign that someone has stolen your identity.

Benefits fraud was one of the most heavily abused types of identity theft during the height of the pandemic, as fraudsters took advantage of people who needed financial assistance from the U.S. government.


Source: FTC

What does this mean for you?

If you’re denied benefits, you may be a victim of fraud.

Scammers could have stolen your information in a phishing attack, or found it on the Dark Web after a data breach.

For example, a T-Mobile breach in 2021 exposed the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of over 40 million people.[*]

Your health insurance data could have been stolen in a case of medical identity theft, in which case someone has used your health benefits to pay for their own medical care.

Other signs to watch out for:

  • Ineligibility notices for government assistance
  • Letters or bills about unfamiliar procedures or requests
  • Inaccurate health conditions in your medical files
  • Missing stimulus checks or other types of government aid
  • Letters from the Department of Labor about unemployment benefits you didn’t apply for
And there’s another government benefit that many of us don’t categorize as such but is equally important: your tax refund. This type of fraud is so prevalent that it merits its own category.

3. Inaccurate (Or Missing) Tax Returns

You submit your tax return, only to receive an alarming message: someone else has already filed a return in your name.

Or equally concerning, the IRS accepts your accurate return, but then sends a letter informing you that there are inconsistencies and your taxes will need to be audited.

Taxes are among the most common targets for identity fraud. Unfortunately, the IRS is limited in their ability to help you in the event of tax fraud.


What does this mean for you?

An existing return can indicate an identity thief has claimed a tax refund in your name.

For example, an Illinois man pleaded guilty to identity theft in May, 2022. He had collected $222,000 in fraudulent tax refunds filed under the names of innocent victims.

If your tax return is flagged for inconsistencies, it could be because someone used your personal data in a job application. Even worse, the IRS could flag your return for unreported income.

Other signs to watch out for:

  • Receiving unfamiliar tax forms like W2s or 1099s addressed to you
  • Notices from the IRS confirming transcripts, accounts, or Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) that you never requested
  • Notices from the IRS about unpaid taxes or missing tax years

4. You’re Locked Out Of Your Online Accounts

Imagine you’re trying to access an important online account, but you can’t. When you try to reset the password, it doesn’t even recognize your email. You’ve been locked out of your account.

The average American has 150 online accounts. Even the best internet security tools can’t prevent data breaches — a top method hackers use to steal passwords.

Last year set new records for the number of security breaches that leaked personally identifying information (PII), such as:
  • Social Security numbers
  • Health insurance information
  • Bank account information
  • Driver's license data
  • Phone numbers
  • Emails and passwords

Source: ITRC

What does this mean for you?

If you can’t log into an account (or reset your password), it means a scammer has taken control of it.

Financial institutions are the biggest targets. A thief with access to your bank account, credit account, or cryptocurrency wallet can make withdrawals until they deplete the account to zero.

You might not care about your Macy’s online account that you haven’t used in five years. But if it gets hacked, criminals can buy products with your saved credit card information.

Other signs to watch out for:

  • An account looks different when you log in
  • Suspicious login attempts to your social media accounts
  • Authentication messages for accounts you don’t recognize
  • Incoming calls asking for authentication codes, usernames, or passwords

5. Missing Physical Mail

Mail theft is one of the most devastating scams. Someone violated your privacy by raiding your mailbox.

Even worse, criminals have the ability to submit a change of address request and intercept your mail.

Even if you check your mailbox regularly and use a shredder to get rid of sensitive documents and financial information, you aren’t completely safe.

A Florida postal worker pleaded guilty in June of 2022 to opening and stealing approximately 100 pieces of mail.

What does this mean for you?

Mail is a target for fraudsters because it contains valuable information that can be stolen for identity theft. This information could include your name, phone number, address, and account numbers.

Bank statements, medical paperwork, tax documents, and even pre-approved junk mail can also be leveraged for identity theft.

This type of identity theft is also referred to as “dumpster diving.”

Other signs to watch out for:

  • Signs of tampering in, around, and on your mailbox
  • Unfamiliar bills or packages arriving at your home
  • Calls about unpaid bills
  • Your utilities are suddenly shut off
  • You are receiving less mail than usual

6. Missing Ids Or Physical Documents

You get ready to leave for work in the morning and suddenly realize your wallet is missing.

If you lose any type of sensitive physical document (especially a driver’s license) or your entire wallet, you are at high risk of identity theft.

What does this mean for you?

A thief who finds ID cards or physical credit or debit cards can commit identity theft even faster than someone stealing your identity on the Dark Web.

A personal ID document or physical credit card contains all the pieces of information necessary to commit identity fraud.

Other signs to watch out for:

  • A cashier or server who takes your card for a suspiciously long time
  • Unsolicited phone calls and voicemails
  • Suspicious emails and texts

7. Your Information Was Found On The Dark Web

You can run a free Dark Web scan to make sure your personal information hasn’t been exposed.

We recommend Aura or Identity Guard. Both offer this indispensable tool to check for identity theft.


What To Do If Someone Stole Your Identity

Here is what you should do if your identity is stolen:

1. Change your passwords immediately. If you experienced fraud, it’s always a good idea to secure your online accounts by changing your passwords, especially for sensitive accounts that contain financial information.

2. Set up two-factor authentication (2FA). Of 1.2 million hacked accounts tracked by Microsoft, 99.9% didn’t use 2FA. An authenticator app is simple to install and helps protect against account takeovers.

3. Use a secure password manager. Don’t try to remember all your passwords, and never recycle the same password across many online accounts.

4. Lock or freeze your credit immediately. You must contact one of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and initiate a credit freeze. You should also place a fraud alert on your credit file, which requires that lenders verify your identity before offering credit. Meanwhile, a credit freeze locks your report completely.

5. Notify your financial institutions. Call the fraud departments at the companies affected, such as your bank or credit card companies, and explain that you’re a victim of identity theft.

6. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file an official report of identity theft with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.

7. File a police report. Bring the FTC report with you to file a report with local law enforcement.

8. Report identity theft to the IRS. If you were a victim of tax-related fraud, complete the Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039), or call 800-908-4490.

9. Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you believe your Social Security number was compromised, contact their fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271, or submit a report online at https://oig.ssa.gov/.

10. Keep less in your wallet or purse. The less you carry with you, the less information a thief can steal. It’s a good idea to only keep one credit card and driver’s license in your wallet. Always leave your Social Security card and debit cards at home.

11. Use a VPN and antivirus software. A VPN can help protect you on public Wi-Fi networks. Antivirus software can spot and remove malware before it infects your device and data.

12. Consider identity theft protection. A credit monitoring service alone isn’t enough. You need a comprehensive identity theft protection service to ensure true peace of mind.

No comments: