A 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll showed that last year nearly 15 million consumers in the U.S. were victims of identity theft.
Identity theft is when someone takes another person’s personally identifying information (PII), like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, and uses it without permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
While most credit card issuers provide zero fraud liability, a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center showed that as a result of identity theft, 26% of respondents had to borrow money from family or friends, 22% took time off work, and 15.3% of respondents sold possessions to pay for expenses.
To fight identity theft, experts say the most important factor is early detection. Here are 7 warning signs of identity theft.
- Small ‘test’ charges on your credit card: Credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Report. Hackers will often place a small charge for a couple of dollars on a card to see if it will go through before they attempt a larger fraud later. Always review credit card statements. If there is a small unrecognized charge, don’t ignore it. Talk to your credit card issuer.
- Debt collector contact: Calls about debts that aren’t yours are often the first sign of identity theft. It means accounts have been opened without your knowledge for a while. Tell the collection agency that the debt isn’t yours and to stop contacting you. Place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report to prevent future unauthorized accounts.
- Dumped garbage cans: While it could be a raccoon going through the garbage, dumpster divers also steal PII this way. Never put anything that contains your name, address and other confidential data into the garbage or blue box. Documents should be securely shredded when no longer needed.
- Missing mail: Thieves will check mailboxes for correspondence containing name, address, and other confidential information, and they will use change of address forms to reroute bills and credit card statements, for example, to another address. Make sure all statements are being mailed to the correct address. Install a lockable mailbox or a slot that directs mail into your house. Switch to paperless billing. Shred documents containing personal information before throwing them in the trash.
- Credit denial: If you are unexpectedly denied for a credit card, loan, or other service, a fraudulent account may be the issue. Review credit reports regularly. If a problem occurs, start a credit report dispute process, and call the company that reported the account to let them know about the fraud.
- Unexpected bills: If you start receiving bills or notices of overdue payments for items or services you didn’t purchase, you may be a victim of identity theft. Contact the creditor and inform them that you have been a victim of identity theft. File a police report.
- Medical claim rejection: A thief using your medical insurance ID may have reached the benefits limit. Always safeguard your medical insurance card, and do not share it with anyone. Treat medical bills, insurance statements as you would other sensitive information – and securely shred them before disposing of them.
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