Identity thieves are out there looking for ways to use your personal information to run up charges in your name, steal medical account information and even steal tax refunds.
The good news: Identity theft dropped 15% last year, affecting 2 million fewer victims, thanks in large part to a decline in 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, compiled by the Federal Trade Commission.
1. Changes in your credit report
When you check your credit report, keep an eye out for charges and accounts that you don’t recognize.
This can be evidence that an identity thief has gotten into your credit accounts and has made charges, which then are reported on your credit report.
Checking your credit is a smart habit to adopt. It’s easy to do, and you are entitled by law to three free reports annually.
2. Rejected health claims
Another sign of trouble is when your health insurer rejects your legitimate medical claim because their records indicate that you’ve reached the limit of your benefits.
This happens when thieves target someone’s medical account, consuming 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, John Breyault, vice president of public policy for the National Consumers League, tells Money Talks News.
Identity thieves use phishing email scams to trick consumers into sharing personal information such as Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords.
Be very careful about whom you provide information to online. Stay alert and do not click on unfamiliar or potentially suspicious links.
Your Social Security information is critically important. Here are three ways to protect it.
3. A merchant declines your check
If you are someone who balances your checkbook and pays bills on time each month, you may be shocked if, out of the blue, a merchant refuses your personal check.
It could be a sign that a thief has been using your bank account. This article explains how to learn if identity thieves have opened accounts in your name.
4. Unexplained bank account charges
This warning sign may be the easiest one to spot: Check your bank account statement for unusual charges.
If, instead of your usual activity, you see withdrawals that you don’t recognize and can’t explain, a thief may have cracked your account and made charges in your name.
If you think that you may be a victim of identity theft, file a report at the FTC.
Also, you may want to contact the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to request a credit freeze on your accounts. Also known as a security freeze, this helps prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. A credit freeze is free and won’t affect your credit score.
Should you use a credit freeze? There are pros and cons to consider. You decide.
5. 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.
Another good move when you’ve been targeted by identity thieves: Report the theft to your state attorney general’s office. The National Association of Attorneys General has contact information for your state.
6. 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. They could well be calling about debts that were not incurred by you.
The unpaid bill now in collection may belong to an identity thief. However, your name, unfortunately, is on the bill.
7. Unexplained medical bills
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 managed to get your health insurance information and use it to receive medical care, leaving you with the bill. This is known as medical identity theft.
Take action quickly. Report the breach to your medical provider and your health insurance company.
Does this problem sound unlikely? It’s not.
“Medical identity fraud is a big problem,” Breyault says.
Prescription drug identity theft, when thieves use your medical information to order medication, is common as well.
8. 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.
9. A lost wallet
Oh, no! You lost your wallet, along with your Social Security card, health insurance card, bank and credit cards and driver’s license.
It’s a good idea to assume that your personal data can quickly fall into the hands of a thief who’ll quickly try to use it. You should act fast, too: Call your bank and credit card companies right away to report the loss and close accounts.
Have you experienced these or other warning signs or been a victim of identity theft? Share your story in a comment below or at our Facebook page.