How Do You Know When Your Identity Has Been Stolen – Do you suspect that you have experienced identity theft? You are not alone The number of reported cases of identity theft, which has been on the rise for decades, has increased dramatically over the past few years.
But these are only reported cases. A recent survey showed that 47% of Americans have been a victim of financial identity theft in the past two years. [*]
How Do You Know When Your Identity Has Been Stolen
1. Unknown Activity in Your Financial Data Most identity thieves have one goal: to monetize your personal information as quickly as possible.
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That’s why you should always have an up-to-date copy of your credit report. You should also develop the habit of reviewing your financial statements every month.
It is important that you learn to recognize the warning signs of identity theft. A recent survey found that less than half of consumers were notified by their financial institutions that they had been a victim of identity theft.
You can get a free credit report from each credit reporting agency: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at Annualcreditreport.com.
When reviewing your credit history, be sure to look for tricky inquiries you don’t know or new accounts you haven’t opened.
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For your credit card and bank statements, watch for any signs of fraudulent activity, no matter how small. Criminals often test stolen cards for a few dollars before attempting a larger purchase.
What does this mean for you? If you have unusual activity on your credit profile, it means that thieves have stolen your Social Security Number (SSN) or other types of personal information that they can use to apply for a new credit card, loan, or even a loan. A mortgage in your name.
Suspicious purchases reported in your bank account or credit card activity may mean that your card number has been stolen and the thief is making unauthorized purchases.
If you see any of these red flags, you should immediately freeze your credit and report the fraud to your financial institutions.
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You may need to cancel fraudulent accounts, as this is a necessary step for effective loss control.
2. Maximize Health Insurance Benefits If you are denied health insurance coverage or are denied benefits from government agencies such as unemployment, this is a sign that someone has stolen your identity.
Advantage fraud was the most abusive form of identity theft during the height of the pandemic, as fraudsters took advantage of people in need of financial assistance from the US government.
Scammers may have stolen your information in a phishing attack or found it on the dark web after a data breach.
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For example, a T-Mobile breach in 2021 exposed the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of 40 million people. [*]
Your health insurance data can be stolen in the event of medical identity theft, where someone uses your health benefits to pay for their medical care.
And there’s another government benefit that many of us don’t classify as such but is just as important: tax refunds. This type of fraud is so pervasive that it deserves its own category.
3. Wrong (or missing) tax return You submit your tax return, only to receive an alarming message: Someone else has already filed a return in your name.
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Or similarly, the IRS accepts your valid return, but then sends you a letter stating that there are discrepancies and that your taxes need to be audited.
Taxes are the most common targets for identity fraud. Unfortunately, the IRS has limited ability to help you with tax fraud.
What does this mean for you? The current return may indicate that the identity thief has claimed a tax refund in your name.
For example, in May 2022, a man from Illinois pleaded guilty to identity theft. He collected $222,000 in fraudulent tax returns filed in the names of innocent victims.
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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 may set your return for unreported income.
4. You have closed your online account, imagine you are trying to access an important online account, but you can’t. It doesn’t even recognize your email when you try to reset your password. You have been blocked from accessing your account.
The average American has 150 online accounts. Even the best internet security tools can’t prevent data breaches – hackers use them to steal passwords.
The past year set new records for the number of security breaches in which personally identifiable information (PII) was leaked, such as:
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What does this mean for you? If you can’t log into an account (or reset your password), it means the 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 withdraw funds until the account is empty.
Don’t worry about your Macy’s online account if you haven’t used it in five years. But if it gets hacked, criminals can buy products with your saved credit card information.
5. Theft of lost physical mail is one of the most devastating frauds. Someone has invaded your privacy by raiding your mailbox.
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Even if you check your mailbox regularly and use a shredder to get rid of sensitive documents and financial information, you are not completely safe.
A Florida postal worker pleaded guilty in June of 2022 to opening and stealing nearly 100 pieces of mail.
What does this mean for you? Mail is a target for scammers because it contains valuable information that can be stolen for identity theft. This information may include your name, phone number, address and account number.
Bank statements, medical documents, tax documents, and even pre-approved junk mail can be used for identity theft.
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6. Loss of ID or physical documents You get ready to go to work in the morning and suddenly realize that your wallet is missing.
If you lose any kind of sensitive physical documents (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 can find a physical ID, credit or debit card can steal your identity faster than you can on the dark web.
A personal identification document or physical credit card contains all the information needed to commit identity fraud.
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7. Your information on the dark web You can scan the dark web for free to ensure that your personal information is not exposed.
What to do if someone steals your identity What to do if your identity is stolen:
1. Change your passwords immediately. If you have been scammed, it is always a good idea to change your passwords and secure your online accounts, especially for sensitive accounts that contain financial information.
2. Set up two-factor authentication (2FA). Of the 1.2 million hacked accounts that Microsoft tracked, 99.9% did not use two-factor authentication. The Authenticator app is easy to install and helps protect against account takeovers.
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3. Use a secure password manager. Don’t try to remember all your passwords and don’t reuse the same password across multiple online accounts.
4. Lock or freeze your credit immediately. You should 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 lenders to verify your identity before extending credit. Meanwhile, a credit freeze shuts down your report completely.
5. Notify your financial institutions. Contact the fraud departments of the affected companies, such as your bank or credit card companies, and explain to them that you are a victim of identity theft.
6. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file an official identity theft report with the FTC at Identtheft.gov.
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7. Submit a complaint to the police. Bring the FTC report with you to report to local law enforcement.
8. Report identity theft to the IRS. If you are a victim of tax fraud, complete an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) or call 800-908-4490.
9. Social Security Administration (SSA) notification. If you believe your Social Security number has been compromised, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or file a report online at https://oig.ssa.gov/.
10. Carry less quantity in your wallet or purse. The less you carry with you, the less information a thief can steal. It’s a good idea to keep only one credit card and one driver’s license in your wallet. Always keep your Social Security card and debit card at home.
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11. Use a VPN and antivirus software. A VPN can help protect you on public Wi-Fi networks. Antivirus software can detect and remove malware before it infects your device and data.
12. Consider protection from identity theft. Credit monitoring services alone are not sufficient. You need comprehensive identity theft protection to ensure true peace of mind. Just because you’re so careful about your personal data doesn’t mean you’re safe from identity theft. All it takes is one data breach at a bank or other institution you deal with and your data is still at risk. Additionally, identity theft is theft in nature. It can take months for identity thieves to discover it until you are hacked.
The standard procedure when your identity is stolen is to lock all your accounts, logins, and
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