You know it as soon as you hear about it: identity theft. That fear of the unknown, of someone stealing your personal information and using it illegally for personal gain is unsettling, to say the least. And yet, identity theft is becoming increasingly common, with the Federal Trade Commission’s estimates reporting that it affects over 9 million Americans every year.
So what steps can you take to protect yourself? How do you spot the warning signs of identity theft, and how do you stop it in its tracks before it allows someone to steal your personal information? Luckily, we’ve bottled up our research into this handy blog post, aiming to help you identify the warning signs of identity theft, and arm you with the necessary knowledge you need to protect yourself in the future. Let’s delve right in and get started with the basics of identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime in which criminals use your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number or credit card number to commit fraud and other crimes. The consequences of identity theft can be devastating, leaving victims the hassle of restoring their identity and repairing their good name along with suffering financial losses.
Arguing both sides of the argument, some people believe that identity theft is an issue that only affects those who neglect their online security and provide too much personal information on public platforms. By taking sensible precautions such as not sharing passwords, using strong passwords and not clicking all links in emails, they claim it is possible to avoid it altogether. Other people claim that no matter the level of precaution, there is always a risk for innocent victims of this type of fraud; especially those who have had their information stolen directly from third parties holding their data such as banks or companies.
According to the U.S Department of Justice’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) there were over 63 million victims of identity theft between 2000-2018 in the United States alone. This number includes individuals affected by thefts via insiders, data brokers and even through hackers accessing information stored by companies. It shows that regardless of how secure an individual’s practices may be towards protecting their personal data, there is still a risk for victimization due to poor security measures in place from companies storing such data.
- According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, in 2019, there were 1,507 data breaches with 162.9 million personal records exposed in the United States.
- A study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 14.4 million consumers became victims of identity fraud in 2019 alone.
- According to Statista, the total amount of global losses due to identity theft was estimated to reach $16.9 billion in 2020.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
When diving deeper into the topic of identity theft, it is important to understand how identity theft occurs so that one can know what circumstances to be wary of. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that in 2016, a total of 16.7 million Americans were victims of at least one type of identity theft. So, how does identity theft occur?
There are several ways in which an individual can fall victim to identity theft such as dumpster diving, phishing emails and skimming. Dumpster diving is when a perpetrator rummages through someone’s trash looking for personal or financial documents containing private information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers. Phishing emails refer to scammers posing as an organization attempting to obtain personal data. Skimming is when criminals steal credit or debit card information with a card-reading device while the card is still in an individual’s possession.
Although there are many ways in which identity thieves can steal information, there are also several methods of prevention available to individuals such as password protection software, shredding sensitive documents, not carrying all of your cards with you and signing up for identity theft protection services. Even though technology is advancing and becoming more sophisticated, it is still very important for people to take the necessary steps to protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft.
Signs That You May Have Been a Victim of Identity Theft
It is important to be able to recognize the signs that you may have been a victim of identity theft. Identity theft usually occurs when someone takes personal information such as your Social Security number, credit card information or passwords and uses them without permission. It can happen in a variety of ways including online, through physical mail and over the phone. Here are some signs to look out for:
• Unexpected calls from debt collectors – if you keep getting calls from debt collectors about debts you didn’t create, it could be a sign that someone has stolen your identity.
• Receiving bills for services you never signed up for or recognizing charges on your bank statements that you don’t remember making – this could mean that someone is using your personal information to sign up for services in your name.
• Seeing unfamiliar accounts or addresses on your credit report – if there are accounts listed on your credit report that you don’t recognize, it could mean that scammers have opened new lines of credit in your name.
• Receiving emails asking for account authentication – phishing emails may appear to be from companies you trust and can be used to try and gain access to your accounts by asking you to authenticate or verify your account information. It is important not to click on any links in these emails as they can be malicious.
Check Your Credit Report and Credit Score
Now that you have an understanding of the signs and symptoms of identity theft, it’s important to take proactive steps to help protect yourself. It’s likely that if you find that you are a victim of identity theft, it has been going on for some time without your knowledge. The best way to protect yourself is to regularly monitor your credit reports and scores.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – once every 12 months. You can also check with AnnualCreditReport.com for the most up-to-date information about how to access these reports. When checking your credit reports, take the time to look for any discrepancies or changes that do not match up with activities that were done by you or anyone connected with you.
Your credit score is calculated based on the information in your credit report; it is often used by lenders when evaluating applications for loans or credit cards. Regularly monitoring your credit score will help you detect any unexpected changes early on, as well as alerting you if something suspicious is going on with your financial accounts. If there is anything unusual detected, then take action immediately to address any incorrect information before it causes additional damage.
Considering Other Fraud Warnings
Once you have taken the necessary steps to protect your credit report and score, you can go a step further by considering other potential fraud warnings. While identity theft is often associated with unauthorized access to one’s credit cards, there are other types of fraud to be aware of. Scams related to unsolicited emails often target users, who should be aware of the warning signs. It’s important to watch out for phishing scams and fake offers that could result in identity theft as well.
Along with observing email activities, users must also be cognizant of mail delivery services. Unexpected mail such as pre-approved credit cards or notifications from debt collection agencies may indicate that someone has stolen your identity. You should take any unknown forms of mail seriously, especially if it relates to business or financial matters.
By staying aware and monitoring your accounts regularly, you can guard yourself against various fraudulent activity. Through this means you will have the chance to detect any strange behavior within your accounts to prevent any long-term damage from occurring. Further action can then be taken accordingly in order to stop any potential malicious activity.
Examine Banking and Personal Documents
When considering the other fraud warnings that can signal the possibility of identity theft, it is important to examine banking and personal documents. Checking account statements and asking for bank notifications when accounts are accessed is a key way to help monitor finances. Other documents such as credit card statements and bills should be inspected on a consistent basis to ensure no fraudulent activity has occurred. If one notices any unfamiliar charges or activities, it is important to act quickly and report them to the financial institution in question. In addition, investing in credit monitoring can help alert individuals of any changes in their credit score.
By taking proactive measures such as these, individuals can help protect themselves from identity theft. While investing in these types of preventative services may be costly upfront, in the long run they could save an individual thousands of dollars and considerable headaches related to restoring their identity or patching up their finances. Examining banking and personal documents is not just a good idea but an essential practice for all individuals who want to protect their identities from potential theft.
Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft
It is important to protect yourself against identity theft. There are several basic tips that can be followed to help shield yourself from potential risks. The following should be considered:
1. Update Passwords Regularly: Changing passwords can help protect your personal information, especially if you use the same one multiple locations. Furthermore, using two-factor authentication (such as a code sent to your phone) is even more secure.
2. Monitor Your Credit Score: Checking your credit report at least once per year can help ensure that you are aware of any suspicious activity on your account. Consider signing up for services that provide notifications about changes to your accounts or credit score.
3. Use Strong Security Software: Installing anti-virus and firewall protection is essential for protecting against malicious software and phishing attacks, which could be used to steal your identity or install keyloggers on your computer.
4. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams: Be cautious when it comes to unsolicited emails or calls requesting personal information — especially if they involve requests for money or gift cards. Remember that no legitimate company will email or call you to ask such details if they do not have prior contact with you.
These simple tips can play an important role in helping protect yourself from identity theft and other malicious attacks aimed at stealing data and financial resources. Taking preventative steps to protect against identity theft will not only save you time but money as well, hopefully avoiding costly repairs due to fraudulent use of credit cards or bank accounts caused by unauthorized access to private data.
Responses to Frequently Asked Questions
What types of identity theft are most common?
The most common types of identity theft are credit card fraud, new account fraud (opening accounts in someone else’s name), and account takeover (hacking into someone’s existing accounts). According to data from the FTC, credit card fraud accounts for around 57% of all identity theft cases, with new account fraud making up 28%. Account takeover is also becoming increasingly common, with a 2017 study from Javelin Strategy & Research finding that it accounts for 16% of all identity theft cases.
Online scams have become an increasing risk in recent years. Data breaches and the increased use of online banking have made it easier for cybercriminals to access sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank details and passwords. It is essential that individuals take steps to protect themselves online.
What should you do if you suspect identity theft?
If you suspect identity theft, the most important thing you can do is act quickly to protect yourself. First, contact the financial institution or credit card company responsible for any accounts you believe may be compromised. They can freeze any accounts and help you investigate further.
Second, contact one of the three major credit bureaus in the US (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) and place a fraud alert on your file. This will help protect your credit score from potential damage associated with fraudulent activity.
Third, document all of your steps and file an Identity Theft Report with your local police department. You need this report to dispute any unauthorized charges that have been made with your stolen identity. Make sure to update your passwords to multiple accounts as soon as possible to prevent further damage from occurring.
Finally, keep a close eye on your financial accounts for any unusual activity or strange charges and create an “Identity Theft Recovery” plan before something happens so that you know who to contact if it does occur. By taking these steps you can dramatically reduce the chances of identity theft-related problems ruining your life.
What are the warning signs of identity theft?
The warning signs of identity theft can be divided into two main categories: financial and non-financial.
Financial warning signs include:
-Unexpected bills or charges appearing on credit card statements.
-Bills for goods or services that you haven’t ordered.
-Calls from debt collectors regarding debts you don’t recognize.
-Unexpected denials for credit applications you didn’t apply for.
-Receiving notifications from the IRS indicating suspicious activity on tax accounts.
Non-financial warning signs include:
-Finding unfamiliar accounts opened in your name, with or without your personal information.
-Receiving mail from unknown companies or businesses that you didn’t contact.
-Having your identity documents such as drivers license, passport, Social Security card lost or stolen.
-Receiving emails, texts or phone calls asking for personal information.
-Being locked out of accounts that use passwords and usernames you recall correctly setting up.