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10 warning signs your identity has been stolen

You or someone you know may have already been the victim of identity theft. But that’s not the only scary part. What’s also scary is you may not even know when — or how — it happened. Was it last week’s online shopping spree? Or that one time you worked from your local coffee shop using shared WiFi two years ago?

There are many uncertainties (and even more headaches) when it comes to suspecting identity theft. Here we hope to clear up those concerns so you’re informed of the possibilities — and empowered to take action.


What is identity theft?


Identity theft is when a cybercriminal steals your personal and/or financial information. This could be personal information like your birthdate, Social Security number, or email address and phone number. Or — and even more dangerous — when your financial information is stolen, giving someone access to your bank account, login information, or credit card numbers.

Identity theft is all too common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates as many as 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. With the rise of tele-health and other online experiences, this number is expected to grow.

The resulting headache is time-consuming, costly, and stressful; the average cost of resolving identity fraud was $2,895, and it can take weeks or even months to unravel.

How does identity theft happen?

Your personal or financial information can be stolen in several ways. Losing your wallet, not logging out of public computers, or accessing public WiFi without encryption can all leave your valuable information in the wrong hands. Likewise, clicking on dangerous links that run vicious viruses or not being careful enough while browsing the dark web are risky behaviors too.

Your information could also be compromised by large-scale corporate data breaches. In 2017, Equifax was hacked, with millions affected. 2019 saw another malicious attack when Capital One’s database was breached, with over 100 million Americans affected.

Here are some tips that can keep you safe:

  • Don’t click on any suspicious links.

  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information on a public network.

  • Make sure you have anti-virus software and that it’s up to date.

  • Change your passwords often.

  • Get a free credit report every year from a major credit reporting agency (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax)

  • Follow up on any suspicious activity on your credit report.

  • Purchase an internet surveillance plan

And remember, your best bet is to use an abundance of caution when online.

 

How will I know if someone is using my identity?


Here are some things to look for, according to the Federal Trading Commission (FTC), the authority on identity restoration in the case of theft:

  1. Check your bank statement often — at least every month — to make sure there aren’t any withdrawals or transactions you didn’t make.

  2. If you use personal checks, and they are suddenly no longer welcome at places they used to be.

  3. Bills and regular mail stops coming.

  4. You get phone calls from debt collectors about unpaid amounts for which you can’t account.

  5. You get mail in your name that’s obviously intended for another person. This person could be using your name and address.

  6. There are suspicious items on your credit report.

  7. You get medical bills in the mail. Or worse, you’re told you’ve reached your maximum benefit of your medical plan even when you know you didn’t use them up.

  8. You get W-2s for companies for whom you’ve never worked or the IRS notifies you of another tax return filed in your name.

  9. More certainly, you get an email or letter stating your information was compromised in a data breach. You should be offered free restoration in such case; be sure to save all communication regarding the breach.

  10. Your wallet and its contents are lost or stolen. Notify all credit card companies and banks and request new cards (and new card numbers). If your Social Security card was in your lost or stolen wallet, here are some additional steps you can take to protect yourself.

 

How do I check to see if someone is using my Social Security number?


The FTC recommends following these additional steps if your Social Security number is being used by a cybercriminal:

  • If your information was exposed by a third-party’s data breach, take advantage of their restoration offer, which should include free credit monitoring for at least a year. Or order your own at annualcreditreport.com. Alert the FTC immediately if you see any transactions or accounts you don’t recognize.

  • You can freeze your credit to block any new accounts or lines of credit. Or you can place a fraud alert on your account to make it more difficult for anyone trying to use your stolen identity for financial gain.

  • File your taxes early. This way, the right tax return is processed and cybercriminals with your Social Security number won’t be able to fraudulently file.

  • Check your credit report regularly to watch out for any new activity.

  • If someone is misusing your personal information, report your identity stolen here.


Safe browsing, friends! The internet should make life easier, more fun, and more productive. But identity theft is very real. Use caution and know what to look out for to protect your identity and personal information.

Tags: Protection