According to the 2019 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research, identity theft affected 14.4 million people in 2018. While that number is a welcome decline from the 16.7 million identity theft victims in 2017, it still represents a significant threat to consumers.
Make sure you don’t become a statistic by learning how to check for identity theft. You can check for fraud by running your credit report, tracking your finances and applying for a credit card.
Take a look at our pointers below to learn more about checking for identity theft, the warning signs of fraudulent activity and what to do if someone steals your identity.
How Do I Check If My Identity Has Been Stolen?
You can’t control security breaches at companies that hold your sensitive information. But you can help protect yourself by regularly checking your credit reports to catch irregularities or red flags.
To check and see if your identity has been stolen, here are some actionable steps you can take.
Run Your Credit Report
Always check your report from each of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion Equifax and Experian. Look for irregularities, credit inquiries and accounts you don’t recognize as well as negative credit marks that are in error. Act quickly to file a dispute with each credit bureau, for unauthorized credit activity.
Monitor Your Accounts
Preventing identity theft is much easier when you closely monitor your finances. Look for unexpected transactions on your credit, savings, or checking accounts, especially those that come from places you do not live or have not visited. Noticing fraud early may limit damages and make your financial recovery less difficult.
How Do I Know If Someone Has Stolen My Identity?
Here are some common indicators to look for when checking your accounts:
You’re Mysteriously Denied Credit Despite Having an Excellent Credit Score
If you have good credit and usually have no problem obtaining credit, your eyebrows should raise when you see a credit rejection. If a creditor or lender denies your application or approves you for less than desirable terms, it could be a sign that someone is tampering with your credit history.
Your Accounts Have Unauthorized Transactions or Test Charges
If you notice unauthorized transactions with your bank, investment, or credit card accounts, you may be the target of identity theft. This is especially true of test charges, or small transactions meant to determine if an account is legitimate.
You Have Sudden Changes in Billing
Unless you opt for paperless billing, you should receive monthly statements for each of your accounts. If you suddenly stop receiving bills in your mailbox, it may mean an identity thief has taken over one or more of your accounts and rerouted your mail elsewhere.
You Receive a Two-Factor Authentication Alert
If you have two-factor authentication enabled and suddenly receive a notice of an attempt to access your account, call your bank or credit provider immediately. Two-factor authentication makes it so that any login attempt for your accounts from an unrecognized location requires direct confirmation from you, usually through an email, direct SMS text, or app authorization.
You Start Getting Unexpected Correspondence
If an identity thief purchases a big-ticket item using your account, it may trigger new offers for loans, cars, home improvements and other high-dollar items.
Another sign of identity theft is getting a mysterious tax transcript in the mail. In this case, a hacker may be trying to access information about you on the IRS website but cannot pass the security test.
Finally, if you suddenly start receiving calls from debt collectors for unknown accounts, it may be a sign that some accounts have been opened in your name and allowed to go delinquent.
What Should I Do If Someone Is Using My Identity?
Take important steps, such as those found below, to protect yourself and stop an identity thief from continuing to use your name for fraudulent activity.
File a Report with Local Police
Officers will listen to your complaint, create a police report and investigate the allegation as necessary. Make sure you receive a copy of the police report, which you may need to support your theft claim to other parties.
Use Your Credit Report to Identify Compromised Accounts
Go through your report line-by-line looking for accounts and other items you don’t recognize. Confirm the accuracy of your name, address and social security number and document each instance of incorrect marks on your report.
Contact Your Bank and Creditors
Call all the companies involved and share a copy of the police report with them. If there are fraudulent charges on a credit card, it is likely you won’t be held liable as long as you report the issue promptly to each creditor.
Credit card companies will usually cancel your card and issue you a new one with a new number. If they require written notice, you can use this Federal Trade Commission [FTC] sample letter as a template.
Place an Alert with One of the Three Credit Bureaus
Request a fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus. Once you report identity theft with one credit agency, they are required to notify the other two bureaus and share information.
Freeze Your Credit File
Contact all three bureaus online or by phone and request a freeze on your credit file. As of 2018, credit freezes are free. Each bureau must freeze your file restricting access to your account within one business day and you can lift the freeze at any time.
Keep Records of Everything
Log all phone calls, emails and any other communications you make. Document important information from your contact with police, creditors, lenders, government agencies and credit bureaus for your records.
Report Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Contact the FTC through their website or by phone at 877-438-4338. Do not skip this step as your FTC report may preserve your rights. Removing fraudulent activity from your credit report may be much easier when you have an FTC report on file.
How to Contact the 3 Major Credit Bureaus
Once you’ve decided to place a fraud alert on your credit report (and potentially freeze your report), you can initiate a fraud alert or credit freeze by phone, online or through the mail.
Equifax Fraud Alert:
Online: Through your Equifax Online Account
By Mail: Complete the Equifax Fraud Alert Request Form and mail it to:
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion Fraud Alert:
By Phone: 1-800-680-7289
Online: Through your online TransUnion account
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
The Bottom Line
Identity theft can happen to anyone. Be proactive in preventing identity theft by monitoring your accounts and your credit reports regularly.
Knowing how to check for identity theft is half the battle. Once you know someone is trying to steal your identity, report the theft to the FTC and local police. Then notify your bank, creditors, lenders, utilities and other companies as necessary.
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Or do you suspect someone is attempting to steal your identity now? Let us know about it in the comments below.