Afraid Your Identity Has Been Stolen? Here's How to Find Out

Identity theft can wreak havoc on your finances, so it could pay to check whether your information has fallen into the wrong hands.
Christy Rakoczy, Author
Melinda Sineriz, Editor
Last updated Jun 16, 2022

Identity theft occurs when someone misuses your personal information. This could include opening a credit card in your name, using your details to submit a false tax return, or obtaining medical services using your name and health insurance details.

Not surprisingly, the misuse of personal information by criminals can have serious consequences. That's why it's so important to be on the lookout for signs of identity theft, such as unexpected charges on your credit card, missing mail, or calls from debt collectors you weren't expecting.

Unfortunately, the risks of identity theft aren't insubstantial, with more than 1.4 million people in 2021 reporting complaints to the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is a part of the Federal Trade Commission.

Because there's a chance you could fall victim — especially if you're spotting troubling signs — check whether your identifying information is being misused. This guide will explain how.

In this article
How to check if someone is using your identity
How identity theft works
FAQs
Bottom line

How to check if someone is using your identity

Identity thieves can misuse your personal information in many ways. It's crucial to keep tabs on multiple aspects of your finances. Here are some of the key steps you'll want to take.

Regularly review your credit reports

Checking your credit is one of the easiest ways to determine whether someone is using your identity. Your credit report shows any accounts in your name, as well as inquiries that are put on your report when someone requests credit in your name and lenders review your credit history. Your credit report also shows whether there are any judgments against you for unpaid bills.

If you review your credit report regularly, you can see whether there are any inquiries or accounts you don't recognize or any claims against.

You can check your credit report for free by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Customarily, it's possible to get one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, weekly reports are available.

Review your credit card and bank statements

If there are unexpected charges on your credit cards or withdrawals from your bank account, someone may have gotten hold of your information and used it to make purchases or withdraw money.

Reviewing your bank and credit card statements could help you ‌reveal whether identity fraud has occurred.

Keep track of your bills

It's a good idea to make sure you know all the bills you receive on a monthly basis and confirm that each one comes. If a bill you expect does not show up, this could be a sign of identity theft. It may mean someone has stolen your information and changed your address on your accounts.

Pay attention to IRS notices

Scammers may steal your information and use it to file fraudulent tax returns to request refunds they shouldn't get. As a result, you should carefully review any IRS notices to make sure you don't miss an alert about problems such as unpaid tax liabilities.

Review your insurance bills and explanation of benefits statements

Medical identity theft is a dangerous problem. It occurs when someone uses your insurance or identifying information to get medical care. Not only could this affect your finances, but it could also impact the care a doctor provides you.

Always review any explanations of benefits and insurance statements your insurer provides.

Consider enrolling in identity theft protection

Identity theft protection services help to monitor for signs of identity theft so you can take swift action.

If you choose a service that includes credit monitoring, you'll be alerted for any indicators someone may be misusing information, including new accounts or unexpected late payments.

Most times, an identity theft protection service also helps you to resolve problems with a stolen identity once they arise.

How identity theft works

Identity theft occurs whenever someone misuses your personal or financial information. It takes many forms, from people buying things with your credit card after getting the card number to scammers stealing your tax refund, getting medical care using your insurance, or opening credit cards or utility accounts in your name. An identity thief could even pretend to be you if they get arrested.

Thieves could gain access to your information in several ways, including:

  • Stealing your mail
  • Taking your purse or wallet
  • Tracking your social media
  • Tricking you into revealing your information through phishing or phone scams
  • Obtaining your info from a data breach

You can reduce the chances of this occurring by keeping only essential items in your wallet. For example, you shouldn't carry around your Social Security card unless you need it, and shouldn't carry more of your credit cards than necessary.

Child identity theft

Child identity theft could also occur, and it can be a big problem because often parents and caregivers aren't expecting a child's personal information to be misused. Parents can help protect their child's identity by being careful about sharing their child's personal information — including on social media — and by monitoring their child's credit.

How to report identity theft

Identity theft should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. You may also wish to report identity theft to the police. Credit card companies may require a police report before removing charges from your account. You should also report the identity theft to the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Other organizations including the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, the IRS, Medicare, and State Attorney Generals Offices may also be interested in reports of specific types of identity theft, such as the misuse of your information for tax purposes, to obtain Medicare services, or to obtain long-term care services.

Here are the steps you should take to report identity theft.

Report it to the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission maintains data on identity theft. The government also has resources available to help people to make a recovery plan. In order to take advantage of these resources and to make sure you aren't accountable for fraudulent actions in your name, it's a good idea to alert the FTC when you've been victimized.

To report the theft of your identity or any misuse of personal details, visit IdentityTheft.gov or call 877-438-4338.

Add a fraud alert to your credit report

If you suspect identity theft, contact Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to place a fraud alert on your credit report. When you have this type of alert, any company you want to do business with will be required to verify your identity before issuing any new credit in your name. Fraud alerts also entitle you to a free copy of your annual credit report.

Fraud alerts are free and typically expire within a year, though they are renewable. Those who have been victimized by identity theft and who alerted the police or filed a report with the FTC may also be eligible for extended fraud alerts.

Consider a credit freeze

If your identity has been stolen, chances are good the thieves will want to get credit in your name. A credit freeze could hinder these efforts. Anyone can freeze their credit, and doing so is simply a matter of requesting a freeze with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Once you put a freeze in place, access to your credit file is restricted. If a company contacts the credit reporting agencies and asks to see your report or credit score, the agencies will deny this request. This will make it nearly impossible for someone to use your credit history to open new accounts, apply for a job, purchase insurance, or rent an apartment.

A freeze is free and will remain on your credit record until you remove it.

Save any evidence

Applications in your name, account statements, customer service notes, and other details can all provide evidence of identity theft. Businesses are required to provide a copy of written records related to identity theft, so you may wish to ask for them.

Tip: Save a copy of any documents you have to provide to law enforcement or credit reporting agencies as you try to fix the problems the identity theft caused.

Report it to the companies involved

One of the first steps you should take is to contact companies affected by the misuse of your personal information. If you know someone has committed fraud by using your identity to open a new credit card, get medical services, or engage in similar behaviors, ‌let the lender or business know.

It's a good idea to alert the companies as soon as you suspect fraud has occurred. Explain to them that your identity has been stolen and request that they close or freeze your accounts so the thieves cannot gain further access. You should also change any passwords or other personally identifiable information.

Report it to the IRS

If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, ‌report it to the IRS. Complete Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit or call the IRS Special Assistance Line at 800-908-4490. Alerting the IRS can reduce the risk of someone filing a fraudulent tax return.

FAQs


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How can you find out if someone is using your identity?

To find out if someone is using your identity, ‌keep careful track of several financial documents. Check your credit report regularly at AnnualCreditReport.com to see whether someone has opened or applied for credit accounts in your name.

You could also contact the Social Security Administration or set up a mySocialSecurity account to check your earnings record. This is especially important if you lost your Social Security card. Check your bank and credit card statements as well for any unauthorized charges. Finally, keep track of your bills and take note of any missing ones, as this could be a sign your address has been changed.


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How do you check to see if someone is using your Social Security number?

Sign into your mySocialSecurity account to see if anyone is using your Social Security number for employment purposes. This will allow you to check your earnings record.

You could also obtain a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com once each week for each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Free reports are typically available annually, but they’ve increased access to weekly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Checking your credit report enables you to determine if someone used your Social Security number to apply for loans or credit cards.


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What are the signs that someone is using your identity?

There are many warning signs of identity theft, including accounts you do not recognize on your credit report, credit or bank transactions on your statements that you do not recognize, phone calls from a debt collection agency for a debt you don’t own, or an IRS notification indicating more than one tax return was filed in your name. Alternatively, not getting phone calls or texts could also be a sign that someone has taken over your phone number.

To quickly spot signs of identity theft, monitor your credit regularly, pay attention to when bills typically come, and consider using an identity monitoring service.

Bottom line

It's much easier to prevent the misuse of your personal information than to resolve problems caused by it after the fact. As a result, it's worth reading up on how to prevent identity theft online. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, your information could still fall into the wrong hands.

To minimize the impact of potential identity theft, keep regular tabs on your credit to spot signs of identity theft quickly. That way, you can react to stop the damage before too much harm is done.

Author Details
Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy is an identity theft expert with more than a decade of experience writing about cybersecurity issues and laws surrounding identity fraud. She has a law degree from UCLA and is a former college instructor who taught courses focused on legal issues surrounding internet privacy.