Did you know that almost one in three Americans encounter some form of identity theft during their lifetime? Theft of individual identities is one of the most prevalent crimes experienced today. Yet many people continue to remain oblivious to its potential dangers.
What warning signs can give away an identity theft, and how can you protect yourself against it? In this article, we will help you find all the answers to these questions. But first, let’s understand exactly what this cybercrime involves and why you must avoid it.
Table of Contents
- The Real Dangers of Identity Theft
- Warning Signs of Identity Theft
- Calls from debt collectors
- Unusual items on your credit card or bank statement
- Unexpected notices from retailers, lenders, and credit card companies
- A bounced check
- Rejection of credit
- Bills you don’t recognize
- Unexplainable earning and tax activities
- Rejected insurance claims
- Unusual details on credit reports
- Suspicious online account activities
- Keeping Your Identity Safe
- To Conclude
The Real Dangers of Identity Theft
A variety of personal data represents your identity—from your name and address to your social security number, bank account details, and online account credentials. A criminal could target you for identity theft by stealing one or more of these details.
The types of crimes they could commit thereafter are countless. For example, they can carry out financial fraud and account takeovers. They could also sell your data on the dark web at a hefty price.
But it doesn’t stop there; scammers can also assume your identity and target others for fraud, such as investment scams and false benefit claims. And when these crimes are traced back to you, you may end up with fines, fees, and even criminal charges.
Warning Signs of Identity Theft
The good news is, you can avoid or mitigate these threats to a great extent by learning how to identify the common warning signs.
Calls from debt collectors
When criminals obtain credit using your identity, collectors could contact you, demanding repayment.
Unusual items on your credit card or bank statement
This is often a sign that a fraudster has gained access to your credit card details or online bank credentials. Credit card fraud, in particular, is quite widespread, with 151 million Americans experiencing one in 2022.
Unexpected notices from retailers, lenders, and credit card companies
For example, you may receive a letter from a lender about a loan you have never taken or a communication from a retailer about a subscription you never signed up for.
A bounced check
If you are contacted by a vendor about a bounced check when you know you have enough funds in your checking account, your account information is likely compromised.
Rejection of credit
Sometimes, your loan, mortgage, or credit card application could be rejected despite you being on sound financial grounds and meeting the relevant application criteria. This could happen when cybercriminals obtain credit without your knowledge, maxing out your borrowing capacity.
Bills you don’t recognize
When a vendor or service provider sends you a bill for a product or service you have not requested, there is a high chance a fraudster is at the root of it.
Unexplainable earning and tax activities
The IRS could inform you that you have already filed your tax returns when, in fact, you have not. Or your social security statement could indicate an additional income stream you are unaware of. These types of incidents are usually the result of an identity theft-related scam.
Rejected insurance claims
Health insurance fraud costs customers and businesses $36.3 billion each year. In this type of scam, criminals may claim medical bills under someone else’s name. Victims usually find out only when insurance providers refuse to reimburse their expenses after reaching the maximum limit.
Unusual details on credit reports
Your credit report can show an unfamiliar account or an unexplainable credit inquiry. These can often signal an identity scam.
Suspicious online account activities
Some websites, such as Google, notify users of unusual log-in attempts together with their location and IP address. These could indicate an account breach. Other signs can include being locked out of your account and changes in your profile details.
Keeping Your Identity Safe
Protecting your personal data is crucial for preventing criminals from stealing your identity. What steps can you take to safeguard sensitive information?
Practice mindful sharing
Be cautious when posting updates on social media or sharing personal details through WhatsApp, email, or any other communication channel. Avoid handing over unnecessary information to apps, websites, and your browser by blocking app permissions, rejecting cookies, deactivating data-tracking features, and deleting your browsing history. Keep your passwords and usernames safe without sharing them with friends, family members, or coworkers.
Also, keep in mind that hard-copy versions are just as risky as digital information when they get into the wrong hands. So, store your passport, birth certificate, and tax, social security, bank, credit card, and insurance statements in a safe location to prevent loss or theft.
Avoid phishing scams
Think twice before you accommodate data requests by others, no matter how legitimate they seem. Make use of PhoneHistory to verify callers and check for typos and unusual references in written communications to identify imposters.
Don’t hesitate to contact the relevant individual or organization to confirm whether the information request originated from them.
Guard against malware threats
Protect your devices by installing a virus guard and updating your regular software. Also, avoid clicking on unverified links and attachments shared via emails, messages, social media, and online ads.
Carry out regular checks
If you often allow your mail to pile up, it is important to get into the habit of checking it as and when it arrives. Also, check bank, credit card, and subscription statements frequently to identify suspicious activities before they escalate. Reviewing your credit report every few months is equally essential.
In addition, run a background check of yourself at least twice a year. You can use a search engine and a data aggregator to find any unfamiliar information attached to your name.
Identity theft can have alarming consequences, often leading to recurring events that continue for many years into the future. So, understanding its warning signs and taking effective measures to protect your personal data is crucial for remaining safe.
If you ever encounter a threat to your identity, keep records of the incident and submit them to the Federal Trade Commission. Depending on the severity, notifying your local police is also important.