In this uncertain economy, protecting yourself from identity theft is more important than ever. Once an identity thief gets a hold of your personal information, they can run up credit charges, drain your bank account, get medical treatment under your health insurance, and open new utility accounts. They can even file a tax refund in your name and get your refund or, in extreme cases, give your name to authorities during an arrest.
But how do you know if your identity has been stolen? Knowing the signs can help you protect yourself. Let's take a look at a few examples:
Signs of Identity Theft
A creditor informs you of an application for credit in your name and Social Security number that you never made, or that you’ve been approved or denied credit for which you never applied.
You receive statements or bills for any type of credit, utility or other accounts in your name and address for which you never applied.
A collection agency contacts you to collect on delinquent accounts that you never opened and never authorized.
Unfamiliar charges on account statements, including your bank accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgage, calling card, utilities, other established credit or billing account statements.
Your bank sends you an automatic insufficient funds notice or an overdraft funds transfer notice when you should have sufficient funds in your account for all debits, checks and payments you’ve made.
An unusual or unexplained notice from a government agency, or state, county or federal tax notices may indicate your information was used to commit fraud involving a government agency, a federal or state assistance program or taxes.
A visit from a police officer involving a criminal investigation or a warrant for your arrest for something you didn’t do.
Service of summons to appear in court or lawsuits for actions you know nothing about.
The amount of mail you typically receive is suddenly significantly reduced without explanation, or specific bills, documents or account statements are not received.
An automatic credit report alert or your regular annual check of your credit reports informs you of recent negative changes in your credit report, unfamiliar account or unexpected credit activity.
Identifying Unauthorized Account Access and Mail Theft
Check your credit reports annually to identify problems, errors or possible identity theft.
Check all of your credit card and bank statements monthly or more often for any errors or unauthorized purchases. Even if you still have your card, your account number may have been stolen.
You don’t have to wait for your monthly statements to come in the mail. You can check your financial account statements more often online or via automated phone customer services.
Check all of your bills and receipts including utility bills, mortgage statements, subscription renewals and even purchase receipts to make sure that all charges are correct and were authorized by you.
Look for monthly billing or other account statements, credit card replacements or other expected communications from your creditors or bank. Make a note to yourself about when credit or debit card replacements should arrive.
When you apply for a new credit or debit card, ask when you should expect to receive your card and contact the card issuer if it does not arrive.
If you order new checks to be sent to your home via the mail, inquire when your box of checks should arrive and watch for them
Reporting Possible Fraud
If a credit or debit card is lost (or maybe stolen), if errors appear on your statements, or if you don't receive your monthly billing, account statements or other expected communications from your service providers, notify the company immediately.
Report missing mail to your local post office or the Postal Inspector. U.S. Post Office and Postal Inspector contact information is available in the “Important Contact Information” section at the end of this book.
If you think you’ve become a victim of identity theft, take action quickly to determine the extent of the problem and reduce the damage that the identity thief can do.
Lastly, one additional way to lower the risk of identity theft is to be cautious in what you display on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. Never provide sensitive information like license or social security numbers on any social networking platforms. You can always limit the amount of information you make public by avoiding providing your full name, actual date of birth, hometown, high school attended, personal address, and email address. This is not to say you should avoid social networking completely, but rather exercise caution when doing so to protect yourself from potential scammers and identity thieves.
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