If someone broke into your house and stole your stereo and TV, you’d notice as soon as you arrived back home. Likewise, if someone stole your car, you’d realize it was gone as soon as you saw the empty parking spot. Unfortunately, if someone steals your identity, the theft isn’t always so obvious.
A careful thief can steal your identity and use it without your knowledge for years, decades or even a lifetime. Your financial records might never reflect this theft. But half a world away a person could be using your identity to make purchase, open new accounts and even commit crimes.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself. While preventing identity theft from ever occurring is obviously ideal, reacting quickly after ID theft has already happened is also pretty important. The faster you can react to identity theft, the easier you can minimize the damage and recover stolen financial information.
Here are 7 warning signs of identity theft.
1. Unexpected Calls from Debt Collectors
It’s probably no surprise that identity thieves will use your identity to rack up charges which they have no intention of paying. Why should they? After all, the bad credit and debt collection calls will go to you, not the thief.
Unexpected calls from debt collectors can be a sign someone is out there using your identity. Don’t ignore debt collections. Talk to the collection agent and find out what the debt is for. If you don’t recognize the delinquent payment, you’ll want to further investigate any possible ID theft.
2. “Weird” Mail
You also want to pay attention to any unusual mail you receive. While unknown bills are obviously a cause for concern, that’s not the only type of mail to be aware of. You also want to watch out for mail related to activities you’re not involved in.
This applies to your children, too. Identity thieves are increasingly stealing the social security numbers and personal information of small children – even babies. This is because nobody really checks on the credit of a minor. Thieves can use this information for decades. A telltale signs of this type of ID theft is when your minor child starts to receive mail meant for adults. This can include jury duty notifications, debt collections and even just a large amount of junk mail.
3. Issues with Health Plan Benefits
Identity thieves aren’t always after money. Sometimes they’re after health benefits. Criminals will steal identities and sell them to people looking to use your health insurance. Pay attention if you receive bills for medical procedures you didn’t undergo from doctors you’ve never met. Another sign something might be wrong is if you reach the limit of your health benefits but have no idea why or when that happened.
4. Unexpected Notifications from the IRS
There are two categories of scams related to the IRS which you should be aware of. The first category is when someone claims to be from the IRS in order to obtain personal information from you. These calls or emails can seem quite frightening. An “IRS agent” will demand personal information while threatening you with an audit or even jail time.
Note that the IRS will never contact you by email. They’ll also never ask you for personal information over the phone. If you have a legitimate issue with the IRS, you’ll be contacted by traditional mail with instructions on how to set up an in-person appointment.
5. Issues Related to Organizations or Businesses
While stealing one person’s identity can be profitable, stealing thousands of identities at once can be even more appealing. Thieves are increasingly targeting large corporations. The retail store Target was hit by thieves in 2013. Even the IRS was the subject of a massive data theft just this year.
There’s not much you can do as an individual to prevent these types of attacks. The best way to protect yourself is to ensure you don’t use the same or similar passwords across multiple accounts. Also, many times the companies involved will offer their customers free ID theft protection services.
These services can monitor the internet and help prevent your information from being sold on sites frequented by criminals. They can also alert you if new credit is taken out in your name. While ID theft protection services are often a good idea generally, they’re especially useful if your information might have been compromised in a large-scale data theft.
6. Peer-to-Peer Torrenting Theft
Obviously, if you’re going to illegally download software, you’re subjecting yourself to a lot of risks. Aside from criminal prosecution, you’re also at risk for online fraud. Trojan horse attacks can accompany any files you illegally download. These Trojans can steal personal information right off your computer including passwords and even logs of your keystrokes. ID thieves know you can’t really go to the police if you’ve been downloading software illegally, so they can attempt to steal your identity with very little personal risk.
7. Synthetic Identity
This is one of the most complicated types of online theft. A synthetic identity is a completely fictional identity created from the real information of multiple people. For instance, this “synthetic person” might have your social security number, someone else’s name and a third person’s address.
This might be hard to notice because not every aspect of your life will be affected. Your bank accounts might appear fine. But halfway across the world, a part of your identity is being used for malicious purposes.
Understanding the Signs of Identity Theft
The idea of someone impersonating you certainly isn’t something pleasant to think about. But the more you know about identity theft, the easier you’ll be able to spot any potential problems. The faster you can react to signs of trouble, the more damage you’ll be able to prevent. So be aware of the personal information you put out into the world. With a little bit of knowledge, you can keep your identity safe and secure.