6 Lesser-Known Signs of Identity Theft
As more of us shop online, share updates on social media and attend conferences across online platforms, scammers are enjoying a golden age. For proof, look at the 14 million victims of identity theft in 2018, which resulted in a total of $1.7 billion to hackers. Identity thieves are increasingly sophisticated and always relentless, ready to pounce where there is a data breach or lack of precaution against hacking, phishing, malware or document theft.
They even pose as trustworthy sources, such as the Federal Trade Commission Chairman. Credit card fraud is still one of the most common forms of identity theft, where criminals either hijack your existing accounts or use your personal details to open new accounts in your name. The warning signs are easy to spot, with unidentified payments and suspicious charges appearing on your statement. But it’s not as simple as keeping an eye on your cards.
Scammers are increasingly moving toward phone financing and loyalty programs using personal details obtained from the dark web or data breaches. If you start receiving bills and correspondence for contracts you never signed, your identity has probably been stolen.
We can’t afford to be complacent; protect yourself by looking out for these red flags that your personal details may have been compromised. Here are some other lesser-noticed signs that could mean your information has been stolen.
1. Look Out for Small Charges
Identity thieves trust you not to check your bank or credit card statement. They know that many of us toss statements directly into the trash, often without even opening them. Disrupt their plans by going through each statement every month, looking in particular for small charges and micropayments. Scammers will often test a stolen account first with a few small payments before aiming for a bigger prize. If you don’t recognize a payment, question it immediately with your bank or credit card company.
2. You’re Missing Your Bills
There are times when having bills to pay is better than having none at all to take care of. Particularly if you’re living in a shared building or have recently moved, identity thieves can intercept your mail and use your personal details for nefarious purposes. Alternatively, a thief who has cloned your credit card might pounce on your mail to remove evidence before you can raise the alarm. The first you may know of the theft is when you receive a call from a debt collector.
Top tip: Go paperless. Most banks, credit card companies, utilities and reward programs actively encourage customers to switch to online statements to save paper. Your personal details are also more secure.
3. Social Security Fraud
For identity thieves, your Social Security details or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is a significant prize. Armed with a Social Security number, identity thieves can claim tax refunds, access government benefits, receive medical care or open a variety of accounts in your name. Always be wary of sharing your Social Security number over public WiFi or through any non-secure website.
If you receive an email asking for your details, ignore the link, go directly to the website instead and log on using your normal username and password. Signs that your identity has been stolen will often appear on your credit report as thieves request hard and soft searches to access credit or loans.
Top tip: Check your credit report regularly and if you’re suspicious of activity, add a fraud alert or security freeze to your report. These lock out access to your report without confirming your identity or entering a PIN or password.
4. You’re Denied Medical Coverage
It might lack the glamour of Ocean’s Eleven or The Thomas Crown Affair, but identity theft in order to access medical care is surprisingly lucrative. It makes sense, given the high cost of treatment and prescription medications. Thieves will use your Social Security number, passport, driver’s license or other form of identification to access medical care on your account. The first you’ll know could be when you’re denied treatment because you’ve reached your benefits limit, or because records show that you have medical conditions (that you don’t have) that exclude you from coverage.
5. Hotline to the IRS
Identity thieves can be more proactive in contacting the IRS than the average taxpayer. Their goal is to sneak through a Stolen Identity Refund Fraud on an unsuspecting account. Using a stolen Social Security number, an identity thief can file a return online and claim a refund. How will you know? When it comes to filing your own tax return each year, you’ll be told that it has already been submitted. Better still, in relative terms, the IRS will inform you that a suspicious return has been filed. Protect yourself by checking your tax account and credit report regularly throughout the year rather than leaving it until filing day.
6. Warrant Out for Your Arrest
Imagine being pulled over for broken tail light and finding out that there is a warrant for your arrest. It happens when criminal identity thieves obtain stolen or cloned personal identification and provide it to law enforcement, whether when receiving a ticket or under arrest. With the thief having no intention of attending the court hearing, the warrant lies undiscovered until the innocent victim triggers the alert themself. If this happens, you will need to contact the law enforcement agency promptly to erase the warrant from your record.
Identity theft is a sinister business, but the good news is that most credit card companies offer zero fraud liability and more than half of victims are able to resolve issues in one day or less. Start protecting yourself today with a credit report check to make sure that nobody has had plans with your identity.