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The Federal Trade Commission reported more than 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2021. The numbers keep growing as identity theft becomes a more common crime.
Having your identity stolen could be a stressful and uncomfortable experience. You may feel like your privacy and security have been violated, and gaining control of your identity might be an uphill battle.
Let’s find out how you may be able to tell that your identity was stolen, what to do in this situation, and the best ways to protect your data and avoid identity theft.
What to do if your identity is stolen
How to prevent identity theft
FAQs about identity theft
7 signs someone stole your identity
It’s important to protect your personal information and your identity. To do so, it may help to learn the signs of identity theft. This would enable you to minimize any loss and reprotect your identity if you become an identity theft victim.
Here are some key signs to look for:
1. You’re getting unrecognizable charges and bills
Paying attention to your monthly bills and bank charges may help protect your identity. Unrecognizable transactions might be fraudulent charges, which would be a potential sign of identity theft.
Another sign of identity theft could be that bills you used to receive no longer come your way since someone may have changed your address or personal information.
2. Your credit report has accounts you didn’t open
Checking your credit report often is essential when it comes to finding out about potential identity theft. You may be the victim of identity theft if you see unrecognizable accounts on your credit report.
U. S. federal law entitles you to one free credit report from each credit bureau annually, and it's wise to take advantage of this to make sure your credit information is up to date and accurate.
3. You receive collection calls for unknown debt
If you receive debt collection calls for accounts that you don’t know about, it may be a sign that someone opened an account using your identity.
The debt collector is required to send you a written debt validation letter if you request one. The letter must include the name of the original creditor, the amount you owe, and the name of the person legally responsible for the debt.
4. Your taxes are filed more than once
It is also possible that someone may try to file your annual income taxes to gain access to your federal tax return. If you try to file your taxes and are alerted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that your taxes have already been filed, your identity might have been stolen.
Filing your taxes early each year may minimize the risk of having someone steal your tax refund, although it may not necessarily protect against identity theft.
5. Unusual withdrawals from your bank account
If your identity has been stolen, the identity thief may have access to your bank accounts. Pay attention to your bank accounts and look for any unusual withdrawals.
Any suspicious or fraudulent activity in your bank account could be a sign of identity theft. Odd or abnormal deposits could also be a sign that someone has access to your personal information.
6. Accounts opened in your children’s names
Unfortunately, children may also be victims of identity theft. If you notice any strange phone calls or mail containing financial information addressed to your children under 18, such as credit cards or bills, make sure their identity hasn't been stolen and the accounts are legitimate.
7. Your information was part of a data breach
If your personal information has been stolen as part of a data breach, an event when a company’s data gets hacked, your identity might be compromised.
Some companies may alert you of the breach, but that might not always be the case. Signing up for identity protection may help you monitor the presence of your information online to detect potential breaches.
What to do if your identity is stolen
If you discover that your identity has been stolen, you must act quickly to minimize any damage to your credit history, finances, legal situation, and more. Here is what to do if you think you may be a victim:
1. Immediately contact relevant companies and organizations
If you discover a suspicious activity that might be a sign of identity theft, contact the companies and organizations involved immediately.
For example, if you receive an alert on your credit file of an unknown new credit card, reach out to the fraud department of your credit card issuer and find out more information about this card. If it isn’t a card you know about, inform the company of the identity theft and call the credit bureau to let it know as well.
2. Freeze your report with the credit bureaus
Once you’ve contacted the relevant companies, you also want to contact all three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to perform a credit freeze and stop anyone from pulling your credit report.
This may help stop any additional accounts from being opened in your name and would give you time to figure out the scale of damage you could be dealing with.
3. File a report with the FTC and IRS
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) aims to protect U.S. individuals from identity theft. The commission tracks and reports on identity theft activity in the United States.
If you suspect identity theft, you could report identity theft to the FTC. You could also file a report with the IRS if you believe that someone filed taxes using your identity.
4. Inform the Social Security Administration
Reporting identity fraud to the Social Security Administration (SSA) may help curb further malicious activities. You could file a report with the SSA online.
Reporting a lost Social Security card with the SSA to protect your identity is also important since it helps protect your identity and allows you to get a replacement.
5. Contact other relevant agencies, companies, and banks
Depending on what information was compromised, you may want to contact all relevant agencies, companies, and banks. If, for example, your driver’s license or its number was stolen, you would contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
If your identity was stolen, make a list of all the companies that may need to be notified and make sure each of them knows that your identity has been compromised. This might also include your employer if any compromised information might affect your company credit card or other employer items.
6. Find out the identity theft scale
Perform a thorough audit of your credit report and all of your bank and credit accounts to understand how much has been compromised.
As you work on reporting the theft, a comprehensive list of the damages may help you inform the right companies and organizations. This list would also help you report the theft to law enforcement.
7. Reach out to law enforcement
Reach out to your local police department and file a police report about the identity theft. A police report may lead to locating or capturing the perpetrator.
A police report may also be something that credit bureaus, banks, and credit card companies ask for as they help you during the recovery process.
How to prevent identity theft
The best way to protect yourself and combat identity theft could be to stay vigilant in securing personal information. Here are some simple actions to protect your identity.
1. Keep your credit reports frozen
One way to protect your credit score and prevent illegitimate accounts from being opened is to freeze your credit reports.
Freezing your credit reports is a service each credit bureau offers that would stop malicious individuals from opening an account in your name without your knowledge. If you need to open a new account, you could easily unfreeze your report temporarily until you open it.
2. Check your mail often
Make sure that you are checking your mail often so that you can quickly identify any issues.
Checking your mail also protects your personal information from potential attempts to access your mailbox. The United States Postal Service offers a free service called Informed Delivery that shows images of up to 10 pieces of your mail on a daily basis.
3. Go over your banking and credit card statements
If you’re not the type of person who checks their bank and credit card accounts every day, you should at least check your monthly credit card and bank statements and look for any unauthorized charges or fraudulent transactions that you may not recognize.
You could also take advantage of any credit and identity monitoring services your bank or lender may offer. These services may help you identify suspicious activity more quickly.
4. Destroy documents containing sensitive information
Protecting your identity has an offline side and an online side. Ensure your offline side is covered by destroying any documents containing your Social Security number, driver's license number, addresses, and more.
It may seem like nothing much could be done with a single piece of information about your identity. However, malicious individuals could piece together different information to gain access to your identity.
5. Use strong passwords
If you often use social media, online banking, and other digital forms of communication, most of your personal information might also exist on the internet.
That’s why it’s important to protect your information online by using strong passwords as your first line of defense to secure your information online. Find out how to create a strong password and what a password manager is, and how it might help you store your passwords, bank account numbers, and more.
6. Utilize an identity theft protection tool
There are many tools you could use to protect yourself from identity theft. You could sign up for a free My Social Security account which may help you manage any activity with your Social Security number.
Your credit card or bank may also offer a free credit monitoring tool and give you the ability to lock your credit card account when not in use. Lastly, you could use an identity monitoring service to receive alerts when your personal information is used or found online.
FAQs about identity theft
What is the first thing you should do if your identity is stolen?
If your identity has been stolen, attempt to lock any accounts or information accessed against your will. Immediately contact relevant companies and organizations, including credit bureaus, your bank, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to report the theft. You could also file a police report and freeze your credit report to minimize any further damage.
What should you do if someone steals your Social Security number?
Immediately contact the three credit bureaus to freeze your credit report if someone steals your Social Security number.
You should also get a copy of your credit report to see if there are any fraudulent accounts. If so, contact the financial institution or company behind each account to report the theft. Finally, report the theft to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov, which may help you build a recovery plan.
How common is identity theft?
In 2021, the FTC received identity theft reports from 1.4 million Americans. Americans lost more than $5.8 billion to fraud schemes in 2021. These reports ranged from ID theft to major credit card fraud and health insurance scams.
It is essential to protect your identity — including your Social Security number, driver's license information, and any other personal data that could help someone steal your identity.
Identity theft continues to grow in the United States, and the individuals behind these thefts are becoming more creative. To combat this, be vigilant in checking your credit reports, analyzing monthly bill statements, and using tools that protect your personal information and provide fraud alerts.
Understanding how to prevent identity theft is one side of the equation. Responding quickly if your identity was stolen could help minimize damages and improve your chances of full recovery.