Identity Theft: The Unmistakable Warning Signs Your Identity Was Stolen

Social Security card

The sketchy phone calls are a warning sign. | blyjak/iStock/Getty Images

Have you been a bit too careless with your Social Security number or indulged in a little online shopping? If the answer is yes, then you’re at risk of identity theft. Over 15 million people were victims of identity theft in 2016 in the United States. Unfortunately, many are unaware until months later when they notice odd charges on their bank statements. Hackers are getting more and more sophisticated in their methods to swipe your identity and have a party — and the damage is much more advanced than forged checks, phony ATM withdrawals, or secret accounts. Your financial future can be destroyed in one fell swoop.

2016’s fraud losses totaled $16 billion, so it’s clear that Americans must be aware of the potential warning signs of identity theft if they want to remain in good financial standing. Here are 15 telltale signs you’ve been a victim of identity theft.

1. You get suspicious phone calls

Older people are particularly vulnerable to phishing techniques and other scams that make it easy to become the next unfortunate victim of identity theft. Hackers are especially good at personalizing their phone calls by confirming your sensitive information to make you believe they’re legitimate. A suspicious phone call from the “IRS” requesting credit card numbers, bank pins, or tax information, for example, is certainly phony, as the real IRS would never request this info via phone.

If you are receiving these calls, or other calls from debt collectors regarding bills that you know do not belong to you, your identity could already be in jeopardy and it’s worth notifying your bank and taking additional steps to address the problem.

Next: Are you still waiting on a refund?

2. You don’t receive your tax refund

A check from the U.S Treasury

Make sure you get your money back. | William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Maybe you had your ducks in a row this year, filing your tax return way ahead of schedule, meaning all that’s left to do is wait for that welcomed refund check to hit your mailbox. If you’ve been playing the waiting game for longer than usual, it could be that your money will never actually arrive at all. This means you’ll need to take the proactive approach to avoid losing your check completely. And it’s worth the extra effort. It takes an average of 278 days to resolve tax fraud.

Next: What to do if you can’t submit your yearly tax return

3. The IRS notifies you that you filed 2 tax returns

IRS service center

Someone might be trying to collect on your tax return. | David McNew/Getty Images

When someone uses your information to file a tax return, they are hoping to pocket your refund check from Uncle Sam. Unfortunately, you won’t know whether this is the case until the second return is filed and the IRS questions the extra submission. Once you’ve been notified of the rejection, which usually happens as you attempt to submit the second form, the Internal Revenue Service will ask you to complete Form 14039 indicating your identity has been stolen. Because fraudulent tax returns are a definite sign of identity theft, your next step should be to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.

Next: An event that should trigger action

4. Your office gets hacked


An office hack could be a bad sign for your personal information. | iStock/Getty Images

Although an office hack is not necessarily a telltale sign of identity theft, it’s an event that should trigger extreme caution on your end to protect personal information. When large corporations get hacked, the information exposed is not just company data, but could include personal employee data, as well. Even if the company resolves the breach, you might want to take preventative action on your personal accounts to prevent possible theft. Otherwise information, such as wage information, home addresses, and Social Security numbers, remains at risk.

Next: The downsides of a rising credit score

5. Your credit score is rising

Credit score concept on chalkboard

Your credit likely won’t stay high for very long. | iStock/Getty Images

Although many would view a rising credit score as a good thing, experts say it could be another unmistakable sign of identity theft. Ralph Rodriguez, chief technology officer at personal data security firm, tells Experian that this sometimes spells trouble on the fraud front. “Check your credit reports frequently for accounts you didn’t open and hard inquiries which could suggest fraudsters are trying to extend credit in your name,” he advises.

Next: Signs of online theft threats

6. You receive strange texts and emails

Smartphone with new message

Get alerted to all new sign-in attempts. | CarmenMurillo/iStock/Getty Images

In addition to suspicious phone calls, potential identity theft victims could receive scam emails and texts from hackers attempting to lure you into forking over pertinent information. A new theft trend called “smishing,” or SMS phishing, is where text messages encourage you to click a malicious link.

To avoid this dangerous trap, set up a two-factor authentication system to alert you of all outside sign-in attempts. If it’s you attempting to log into your email account, then there’s no reason for concern. But if you just so happen to be at the gym when this alert is posted, it could mean a fraudster is attempting to access your information without your consent.

Next: Are the police after you?

7. There’s a warrant out for your arrest

handcuffed woman

If they commit a crime in your name, police will be after you. | Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

You obviously have bigger problems if you’ve got the heat coming after you for legitimate reasons, but an outstanding warrant for your arrest is another undeniable sign of identity theft. It’s not as hard as you think for someone to steal your identity and impersonate you. And if they commit a crime in your name, it could leave you on the hook for a crime you weren’t even aware of.

Next: Why even the smallest signs could foreshadow a big disaster

8. You notice weird charges on your accounts

woman worried by what she sees on cellphone

If you see something that doesn’t look right, check it out. | nandyphotos/iStock/Getty Images

Everyone should monitor their credit card and bank statements like a hawk stalks prey to help catch even the smallest cases of identity theft. Ross Federgreen, CEO of a compliance solutions firm, tells Experian that we must not ignore even small charges. “Hackers often place a small charge for a couple of bucks on the card to see if it will go through before they initiate an attempt at a larger fraud later,” he says.

Remember, companies try to safeguard against potential theft by flagging your account and notifying you of these irregularities. But you’ll want to confirm that these alerts aren’t fraudulent themselves.

Next: Rejection is never a good sign.

9. You’re experiencing a lot of rejection

credit cards over grey background

If you’re getting denied the ability to open a credit card, that’s a bad sign. | Kenishirotie/iStock/Getty Images

If you encounter unexpected trouble opening a new credit card or your card is declined at the store for no apparent reason you mustn’t ignore these scenarios. Aside from the undeniable blow to your ego, being denied credit could be a hint that your identity has been compromised. You should also pay close attention to the terms applicable to you in these instances. For example, when your only options for new cards come with super high rates or other less than favorable terms, it’s reason for concern — especially if this is the first time you’ve ever encountered trouble opening new accounts.

Next: Trouble at the doctor’s office

10. You run into issues with medical insurance

doctor is talking with female patient

If you’re being billed for treatment you didn’t receive, watch out. | GeorgeRudy/iStock/Getty Images

Your memory is probably pretty solid when it comes to recalling your list of previous medical treatments. So if you start receiving bills from providers for services you’re sure you didn’t engage, it could be a possible sign of medical identity theft. What’s more is that your health plan could reject a medical claim if these unwarranted procedures pushed you over your benefits limit. Worse, if incorrect information is in your medical file, it could affect the treatments you receive in the future.

Next: An embarrassing scenario in the checkout line

11. Your card is declined

using credit card at bar

If your card doesn’t work but you know you have the funds, check with your bank. | mikdam/Getty Images

Having a clerk notify you that your card has been declined ranks pretty high up there on the embarrassment scale. But a lack of funds on your card might not be your fault. A fraudster can easily drain your account without your knowledge, so in this instance it’s best to call the company and inquire about the reason for decline. Justifiable reasons could be anything from a lack of funds to a maxed-out card limit or an alert that paused all future card activity.

Next: A sign to watch out for if you use public internet

12. You use public Wi-Fi or online ‘tech support’

A Starbucks customer uses free Wi-Fi.

Public Wi-Fi makes it easier to hack. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One of the best ways to spot possible signs of identity theft is to pay attention to what’s going on with your computer and other online devices. If you don’t check for authenticity or use a virtual private network, identity thieves can access your data via public Wi-Fi systems. They simply lure you in with public Wi-Fi, and while you’re busy uploading the perfect selfie and sipping lattes they’re accessing all your information in cyber space.

Have you had any service done to your computer recently? If you’ve allowed a seemingly legitimate technology service representative access your computer remotely, you could be at risk once again. According to a recent Senate Committee report, “Con artists convince victims to give them remote access to their computers, personal information, and credit card and bank account numbers so that victims can be ‘billed’ for fraudulent services to fix the virus”

Next: A sign of identity theft you have zero control over

13. Your bank or other company housing your accounts gets hacked

CEO shakes politicians' hands

The former Equifax CEO testified after the giant hacking incident. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sometimes you can do everything right to protect against fraud. You don’t give out your Social Security number unless required, you refrain from irresponsible online shopping, and you shred all your bills. Think back to all those innocent customers involved in the Equifax breach or the Target data breach. Those incidents left millions of people’s information exposed beyond their control. If a company where you do business or have an account has experienced a data breach, it’s all too possible thieves stole your information.

Next: An event that makes identity theft a lot more likely to happen to you

14. You lose your Social Security card

man holding Social Security card

You just have to hope a good Samaritan will help you out. | KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images

So someone pickpocketed you on the street last week. Best case scenario: There’s no evidence of identity theft. Worst case scenario: The hacker goes hog wild with your most sensitive information. While we all hope that a good Samaritan finds your card and returns it to you without ever even glancing at the numbers, such a wish is not always likely in today’s unfriendly world. Keep a close watch on your accounts for evidence of fraud. If fraud is expected, you can call the Social Security hotline to report abuse. To stay safe, don’t keep your Social Security number in your wallet at all.

Next: Pay attention to your mailbox.

15. You’re missing mail

Green mailbox with red flag

If important pieces of mail are missing, you could be at risk. | kirill4mula/iStock/Getty Images Plus

These days our mailboxes hold irrelevant coupon books and outdated magazine subscriptions. But regardless of whether you receive anything of substance, you should still scrutinize your mail carefully to guard against identity theft. If certain pieces of mail are missing — such as your monthly mortgage bill — it could mean an impersonator changed your address and is slowly collecting your information. Similarly, if certain statements are missing via email, your online settings could also be at risk.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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