Data breaches have become more and more common over the last several years. According to a report from the U.S. Justice Department, about 16.6 million people were affected in 2012. Credit cards (40 percent) and bank accounts (37 percent) were the most common types of misused information. The Justice Department estimates the cost was nearly $25 billion in direct and indirect losses.
However, we don’t always know when we’ve had our identity stolen. A person usually gets contacted by their financial institution, but sometimes they don’t find out until the damage has been done. Once identity thieves have your information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. They can also run a tax refund in your name and get your refund.
You must always be on the lookout out for any warning sign that your personal information has been stolen. Here are 10 key signs that you are a victim of identity theft:
- You find errors on your bank or credit card statement. When checking your paper or online statement, you might see an unrecognized entry, such as a withdrawal, a check, or an electronic transaction. Thieves will even do a test with a small purchase. If it’s unauthorized, check it out.
- Missing mail or email. If you don’t receive your bank statement, the criminal may have changed your address with the financial institution. If more mail is missing, the perpetrator may have filed a change of address form to get that statement and keep from getting caught.
- Collection notices or calls for a debit you don’t owe. A debt collector contacts you about accounts you know nothing about or problems with existing accounts that you’re unaware of. It is possible that the ID thief used your personal information to buy things and did not pay the bill.
- You find errors on your credit report. You request a copy on your credit report and you notice inaccurate information. The most common indicators of identity theft are a credit inquiry or a new account you didn’t open. Get a free report from one of the big three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) every four months and look for anything suspicious.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use. Someone used your identity and insurance to receive medical treatment. Or you go for a medical procedure and find out that it won’t be covered because it’s already happened.
- Your account is flagged. You might receive a phone call, letter or email from your bank or brokerage notifying about an irregularity on your account. If it comes in the form of an email, make sure it is legitimate and not a phishing email. Contact your bank or credit union prior to opening it.
- You have good credit, but an application for credit is denied. An identity thief might have messed up your credit file and ruined your score.
- You can’t access your email. You attempt to access your email but find that your username and password have been changed. This can be a sign that someone is covering their tracks.
- Your friends receive emails from your address that you never sent. Even if you have access to your email, fraudsters try to benefit off of stolen digital identities by sending out phony emails asking friends and families to send them money. Similar scams have been utilized via Facebook or Twitter.
- There is a warrant out for your arrest. In some extreme cases, a thief might go as far as giving your name to the police during an arrest.
No matter how many steps and precautions you take, there is always a chance that your information can get into the wrong hands. The longer you take to react to a warning sign, the more time it will take to recover from any damage that occurred.