Identity theft is a big issue these days. According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 2 million Americans filed complaints with them about this last year, making identity theft the number one consumer complaint.
Early detection of identity theft is possible and can reduce your potential losses. Here are six signs that you might have been hit – and how you can respond effectively.
1. Your credit card gets turned down – If your credit or debit card gets turned down for unknown reasons, don’t just reach into your wallet for another piece of plastic. Call your bank to find out why. There are several reasons why a card can get turned down and each one deserves a closer look. There may be technical issues with the store or the network. Sometimes, if you use a card in a different physical location than the usual, it will trigger an alert. There also may be technical issues with the network. Or, this could be a very early sign that something is amiss with your account. The bank will want to know exactly where and when the incident occurred so be prepared.
2. Mysterious charges appear on your monthly bank statement – Before paying your monthly bank statement, go through it item by item. Unknown items can be a sign that your identity has been stolen and someone is misusing your account. On a less malicious note, a clerk may have made a mistake, someone else could have transposed an account number, or you might have simply forgotten where you used your card. Any way you look at this, it is always good to know where your money is going.
3. You get some odd letters regarding your taxes – If someone is using your identity – address, social security number – for a job, there will be a difference between the actual income you received and the income attributed to your identity. This can cause red flags to appear at the IRS and they could send you questions about unreported income or the double filing of tax returns.
4. Monthly bills fail to appear at the usual time – Absence of regular bills is no sign for rejoicing. While your mail may have been simply delayed in transit, criminals have been known to change the account mailing details to hide their activities for longer. Better be safe than sorry, give the bank a call.
5. You are too sick for your health insurer – You’ve somehow maxed out your health coverage with illnesses and been billed for unknown treatments. The insurer says you have a health issue that you’ve never had. Legitimate care is denied because you are mysteriously over the limit.
6. Your credit score suddenly drops – Credit scores are calculated from payment history, outstanding loans, credit history, applications for new loans, and the types of loans. If someone uses your identity to apply for a variety of new loans or credit cards and misses payments – this will hit your credit score.
The easiest, cheapest way to find out your credit score is through annualcreditreport.com. This is the site set up by the three major credit agencies – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – to give consumers their free credit reports according to the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Even without the threat of identity theft, it’s a good idea to check this report on a regular basis and make sure that the data is correct.
Yes, it’s time for preventive care for your identity. Taking a closer look at bank statements and your credit report is a step in the right direction. And, careful handling of your personal data can avert identity theft in the first place. Shred the paper before you toss it in the trash and use a VPN like Hotspot Shield to keep your online data private and secure.
Lyle Frink on Google+