The Identity Theft it’s a serious thing. Data breaches are very common and this problem is likely to get worse as hackers improve their strategies even further. It is estimated that over a billion records have been compromised in the last 10 years. You can’t run and you can’t hide, it’s a reality that is affecting us all equally. If you are already aware of this, you are probably now wondering: How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?
The longer the Identity Theft, the more damage it can cause and the longer it will take for the victim to recover. That’s why it’s so important to be on the lookout for any warning signs that your personal information has been stolen and is being used. If you take a few minutes a day to follow up on situations that are suspicious, unusual, or don’t make sense, you can save yourself a lot of headaches. Let’s take an in-depth look at how you can tell if someone is stealing your identity as well as strategies to avoid it.
How does identity theft happen?
Identity theft can happen in a variety of ways, but there is a lot of emphasis on the need to protect yourself online for good reason.
The more information you post about yourself, whether on social media or by saving your details on an e-commerce site, the more data hackers have available.
They can use them to carry out their scams and they can also sell them to other thieves. Always think twice about what you share and how an identity thief could use that information.
But identity fraud is also quite frequently committed through low-tech means. Searching dumpsters is a great example. Your trash reveals a lot about you. The neighborhood recycling bins are filled with magazines and catalogs, junk mail, old bank statements, all sorts of documents that include your full name, address, and other personal information like your hobbies, travel interests, and spending habits. For example, a cell phone bill would give a thief your relatives’ numbers, while a high-end department store catalog shows you have enough money to make expensive purchases.
Thieves also rely on old-fashioned theft, such as stealing a purse or wallet or taking mail from a home mailbox. But when they do opt for high-tech options, it’s often through cards at ATMs and gas pumps, phishing emails to get you to hand over your details via a scam. They also work over unsecured Wi-Fi connections.
How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?
There are several signs that you can take as alerts of possible identity theft. Below you will find some of the most common.
- You receive text messages or emails with authentication codes for accounts you don’t know: A criminal could have opened an account with your name and your data.
- Collection notices or calls about a debt you don’t owe: An identity thief could be using your personal information to buy things and not pay the bill. You better find out.
- Statements appear for an unknown credit card account: With the correct information, a thief can apply for credit cards in your name. They go shopping (using your name and details, of course) before they get caught and the account is closed.
- Invoices for goods or services you did not purchase appear on your credit/debit card statements: Don’t ignore small charges on your statement. Criminals who buy stolen account numbers sometimes test it with a small purchase.
- A store credit card that you didn’t apply for appears in your mailbox: An identity thief may have posed as you to apply for that card. Don’t assume it’s a mistake. Contact the company immediately.
- Credit Report Errors: You are entitled to a free report from the Big Three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once a year. Get a report from one of the bureaus every four months and look for anything suspicious, like an account you didn’t open or credit inquiries when you didn’t apply for loans or credit cards. You can use annualcreditreport.com.
- You have good credit, but a credit application is rejected: find out what’s going on. An identity thief could have damaged your credit file and ruined your credit score.
- Missing mail or email: If you stop receiving your monthly statement from your bank or credit card issuer, that could indicate a problem. A thief may have filed a change of address form to get that information and keep you from seeing their dirty moves for as long as possible.
How can I avoid being a victim of identity theft?
No one can totally prevent identity theft from happening; however, steps can be taken to minimize the risk of becoming a victim. For example:
- Protect and control your mail. Set up an Informed Delivery account through the United States Postal Service. USPS scans your mail and sends you a PDF of the letter-size mail you should receive each day. It also notifies you of package deliveries through the post office. You will know if mail is missing; USPS provides the steps to follow if that is the case. Switch to a locked mailbox for deliveries or rent a post office box. And when you send confidential mail, try to drop it off at the post office.
- Never carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a safe place. Carry passports, credit cards, medical ID cards, and other identifiers only when you need them.
- shred everything. Destroy all trash that has your name, address, and other PII on it before sending it to the recycling or dumpster.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi. Never use public Wi-Fi to bank, pay bills, or share sensitive information.
- Use strong and unique passwords. It also uses two-factor authentication whenever possible.
- See what you share on social networks. Tests and quizzes can be fun to complete, but they provide information about you that identity thieves will be happy to receive. Remember, nothing is really private on the Internet, no matter how good your social media privacy settings are.
How to know if I am a victim of identity theft: final recommendations
If you’ve noticed something suspicious like the ones we described above and you think you’re a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is limit the damage.
First of all, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a report. The agency will provide you with the steps to follow and guidelines for filing reports (including police reports) and will help you dispute the fraudulent charges.
If your credit or debit cards were stolen, contact card issuers and your bank immediately. Next, check your credit reports with all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to confirm any unusual activity and for help dealing with default .
If you find that something is wrong, consider blocking or freezing your credit. You can also set up a fraud alert to let future lenders know you’ve been a victim of identity theft, so they’ll take extra steps to verify your identity. Inform your bank or other financial institutions about your possible identity theft.
Identity theft is a crime, so you should also contact your local police department. Although the authorities may not be able to do much, they can take reports and be alert for suspicious behavior involving your name or address.
Being a victim of identity theft is a harrowing experience. The process of filling out forms and visiting the competent agencies to recover your identity can take hours or months. Recognizing the signs of identity theft and taking steps to prevent it can save you a lot of money, time, pain, and stress.