It may sound like the subject of a juicy suspense film, but having your identity stolen is not something to enjoy over popcorn. And since security breaches have become the new normal, the possibility of someone posing as you and ruining your credit is very real. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 16.6 million people were victimized by identity theft in 2012 alone.
The sooner you detect a security breach, the better your chances of minimizing the damage. If you notice any of the following warning signs, immediately check your bank statements and credit reports. If you suspect foul play, contact the credit reporting agencies directly and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit file.
Related article: Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes
1. Unauthorized purchases
That $2.50 that charged to your card from an online store you’ve never visited might seem minor, but the truth is cyber thieves could be testing out your card in preparation for much more expensive purchases.
2. Calls from debt collectors regarding unknown accounts
A call from a debt collector about an overdue payment for the giant flat screen TV you don’t own could be a scammer fishing for information. It could also be a legitimate debt collector trying to get payment for merchandise bought by the person who stole your identity.
3. New card statement for a credit card you didn’t order
An identify thief may have applied for the mystery card in your name hoping to enjoy a shopping spree. Call the financial institution immediately to report the card as unauthorized and cancel it.
4. Incorrect information on your credit report
If there are accounts on your credit report you didn’t open or your credit has been checked by financial institutions and you don’t know why, this could indicate that someone has stolen your identity or is in the process of doing so. Contact the lender that issued the unknown credit and report it unauthorized.
5. Despite good credit, an application is denied
A wide variety of factors go into whether you qualify for credit, but if you are denied even though your credit is good, this could indicate that something is amiss on your credit report. Federal law allows you to check your credit for free with all three of the consumer reporting companies every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission website tells you how to get your complimentary reports.
6. Lack of mail or email
Savvy identity thieves redirect your email and mail in an attempt to keep you in the dark while they charge up your credit cards and take out loans. If you aren’t receiving emails or mail about your various accounts like you usually do, expect a security breach.
7. Your credit or debit card won’t work
While it’s true that a retailer’s credit card machine may be acting up, it’s also possible that your account limit has been reached by a spend-happy identity thief. Try another card to see if it works, and check your accounts for suspicious activity as soon as possible. Also, inquire with the bank or credit card company about why the transaction failed to go through.
8. You receive unexpected merchandise in the mail
If products appear on your doorstep that you didn’t order, it’s possible an identity thief used your credit to pay for these surprise ‘gifts’ and they were meant to go to another address. If such merchandise shows up, check the shipping label for charge information and call the merchandiser and your credit card company to report the unauthorized purchases.
9. Incorrect IRS notifications
If the IRS informs you that there is income reported in your name from an employer for whom you’ve never worked, or more than one tax return is filed for you in a given year, these are definite red flags. Call the IRS immediately to report the discrepancies.
10. Unusual activity with your insurance provider
Your medical provider bills you for services you never had completed or rejects a claim because it shows that you’ve reached your benefit limits for the year. This could be a simple clerical error, or it could mean that someone has received health services using your identity. Call your insurance company right away.
Of course, any of these warning signs could be a false alarm, but the sooner you check out potential identity theft, the better you’ll sleep at night.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.