While identity theft can happen at any time, more people fall victim during the holidays. As we approach the holiday season, be on the look out for odd or inaccurate information linked to your accounts. Hopefully this does not happen to you, but just in case, here are some signs that you're already a victim of ID theft:
- A creditor informs you of an application for credit in your name and Social Security number that you never made, or that you’ve been approved or denied credit for which you never applied.
- You receive statements or bills for any type of credit, utility or other accounts in your name and address for which you never applied.
- A collection agency contacts you to collect on delinquent accounts that you never opened and never authorized.
- Unfamiliar charges on account statements, including your bank accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgage, calling card, utilities, other established credit or billing account statements.
- Your bank sends you an automatic insufficient funds notice or an overdraft funds transfer notice when you should have sufficient funds in your account for all debits, checks and payments you’ve made.
- An unusual or unexplained notice from a government agency, or state, county or federal tax notices may indicate your information was used to commit fraud involving a government agency, a federal or state assistance program or taxes.
- A visit from a police officer involving a criminal investigation or a warrant for your arrest for something you didn’t do.
- Service of summons to appear in court or lawsuits for actions you know nothing about.
- The amount of mail you typically receive is suddenly significantly reduced without explanation, or specific bills, documents or account statements are not received.
- An automatic credit report alert or your regular annual check of your credit reports informs you of recent negative changes in your credit report, unfamiliar account or unexpected credit activity.
It is important to understand how to identify unauthorized account access and mail theft. The following are all steps you can take to help protect yourself:
- Check your credit reports annually to identify problems, errors or possible identity theft.
- Check all of your credit card and bank statements monthly or more often for any errors or unauthorized purchases. Even if you still have your card, your account number may have been stolen.
- You don’t have to wait for your monthly statements to come in the mail. You can check your financial account statements more often online or via automated phone customer services.
- Check all of your bills and receipts including utility bills, were authorized by you.
- Look for monthly billing or other account statements, credit card replacements or other expected communications from your creditors or bank. Make a note to yourself about when credit or debit card replacements should arrive.
Even after all precautions are taken, you find that your identity has been stolen. Now what? Here are three things you need to do immediately:
1) The first thing you should do is contact any affected entity. For example, if an identity thief hacked into your bank account, contact your bank immediately. Government agencies should also be notified. If a thief has your Social Security number, you should notify the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.
In order to investigate a case, many organizations will require you to file a police report and an identity theft affidavit. The affidavit can be found at the Federal Trade Commission's website, and it only takes a few minutes to fill out. To file a police report, simply head to your local police station with your affidavit in hand and explain the situation.
2) The second step is to protect your credit. Order and review your credit reports looking for information you do not recognize. If you see fraudulent activity, you should file a dispute with the credit bureaus. If you believe a thief is opening credit in your name, you might want to consider a fraud alert or credit freeze. A fraud alert is a red flag on your credit file. If someone applies for a loan in your name and a lender pulls your file, the lender will be notified of the fraud alert. A credit freeze actually prevents any lender from accessing your file at all. Both types of protection can help keep thieves from opening new lines of credit in your name, but they come with downsides. A fraud alert does not prevent a lender from approving a credit application, and a credit freeze prevents all credit approvals-even if you're the one applying.
3) Finally, it's important to continue to periodically review your credit reports and other accounts containing personal information. Once identity thieves have your personal information, they have it forever. They can continue to commit fraud in your name and come up with new ways to use your personal information. You could see the impact even years after the initial theft occurred. Because of the persistent monitoring required to stay protected, subscribing for an identity theft monitoring service may be a safer and easier option. Read more about identity theft.