Identity thieves are looking for ways to use your personal information to run up charges in your name, steal medical account information and even grab tax refunds.
The good news: Identity theft dropped 15% last year, affecting 2 million fewer victims, thanks in large part to a decline in credit card fraud.
The bad news: Victims are increasingly facing financial losses from identity theft. As Javelin Strategy & Research recently reported, 23% of fraud victims in 2018 were stuck with unreimbursed personal expenses.
Keep your guard up by heeding these warning signs identified by the Federal Trade Commission.
1. You notice changes in your credit report
When you check your credit report, keep an eye out for anything unusual. That includes charges (see No. 3 on this list) and accounts that you don’t recognize. This can be evidence that an identity thief has accessed your credit accounts or opened new accounts in your name.
Checking your credit report regularly is a smart habit to adopt, and it’s easy to do online.
You are entitled by federal law to one free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit-reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. During the pandemic, however, you can get free reports as often as every week.
2. A merchant declines your check
If you balance your checkbook and pay bills on time each month, you may be shocked if a merchant refuses a personal check out of the blue. It could be a sign that a thief has been using your bank account or opened an associated account in your name.
To learn more, check out “How to Tell If Identity Thieves Have Opened Accounts in Your Name.”
3. You discover unexplained charges
This warning sign may be the easiest one to spot: Check your bank and credit card account statements for unusual charges.
If you see withdrawals that you don’t recognize and can’t explain, for example, a thief may have cracked your account and made charges in your name.
If you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov.
Also, you may want to contact the three major credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. Also known as a security freeze, this prevents new accounts from being opened in your name, as we detail in “3 Ways to Protect Your Credit — and Their Pros and Cons.”
You now can place and lift a credit freeze for free, thanks to a 2018 federal law.
4. Mail doesn’t arrive
If you are receiving fewer items from the U.S. Postal Service than you typically do, a thief may be intercepting your mail. If your bills or other correspondence fail to appear as expected, be suspicious. A thief may be at work.
5. Debt collectors call
Likewise, if you’ve always been diligent in paying your bills, take notice if you get a call from a debt collector.
Such collectors could be calling about debts that were not incurred by you. The unpaid bill now in collection may belong to an identity thief. Unfortunately, your name is on the bill.
To learn how to respond if this happens to you, check out “What to Do When Debt Collectors Call — Even If You Don’t Owe Money.”
6. Your health insurer rejects a claim
Another sign of trouble is when your health insurer rejects your legitimate medical claim because the insurer’s records indicate that you’ve reached the limit of your benefits.
This can happen if thieves target your medical account, taking advantage of all the benefits so you can’t make a legitimate claim.
Data breaches in medical offices and phishing emails are two ways that medical identity theft happens, says John Breyault, a spokesperson for the National Consumers League.
Identity thieves use phishing email scams to trick consumers into sharing personal information such as Social Security numbers, and other account numbers and passwords. Be careful about whom you provide information to online. Do not click on unfamiliar or potentially suspicious links.
7. You receive an unexplained medical bill
You may be puzzled if you receive a bill from a doctor or other medical provider for services you didn’t use.
If this happens, be suspicious. A thief may have gotten your health insurance information and used it to receive medical care, leaving you with the bill. This is a form of medical identity theft.
Take action quickly. Report the breach to your medical provider and health insurance company.
Does this problem sound unlikely? It’s not.
“Medical identity fraud is a big problem,” Breyault tells Money Talks News.
Prescription drug identity theft — when thieves use your medical information to order medication — is common as well.
8. You see suspicious changes in your medical records
One tip-off that you’ve become a victim of fraud can be if your medical records include a health condition that you don’t have. This could mean that a thief’s medical records have been mingled with your own, potentially damaging your ability to get the care that you need.
Again, act quickly if this happens to you. Report it to your medical provider and insurer.
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