Identity theft happens when someone exploits your personal information for fraudulent purposes. This crime can occur through stealing your credit card information, obtaining medical services in your name, or using your details to submit a false tax return.
With serious consequences, identity theft remains one of the most dangerous crimes. There’s no secret that there are so many types of identity theft. This fact makes it hard to recognize the signs in case you become a victim yourself.
While criminals wait for the perfect moment to strike, you can take action right away. Check out our identity theft prevention guide and learn the common ways that tell if your identity has been stolen.
- Common identity theft red flags
- Stages of identity theft
- Factors explaining how to check if someone’s using your identity
- Details of how criminals steal your personal information
- Things you should do when your identity is stolen
What are the Common Red Flags of Identity Theft?
One common red flag is unauthorized financial transactions. Keep a close eye on your bank statements, credit card bills, and other financial accounts for any unfamiliar charges or withdrawals, even if they’re small amounts. If you notice purchases you didn’t make or withdrawals you didn’t recognize, it clearly indicates identity theft.
Another red flag to watch out for is receiving unexpected bills or collection notices. If you suddenly start getting bills for services or products you never purchased, it’s certainly a cause for concern.
Other factors signaling identity theft:
- Fraud alerts from online services
- Receipt of credit cards that you didn’t order
- Confirmation emails for accounts that you never created
- Suspicious login attempts to your social media accounts
- A sudden drop in your credit rating
- Declined loan or credit despite clean credit history
Fraudsters can use your personal information to open accounts or make purchases, leaving you with the burden of dealing with unfamiliar debts. Don’t ignore these signs, even if they seem insignificant. Take them seriously and investigate further to determine if your identity has been compromised.
The Main Stages of Identity Theft
The overall process of identity theft and recovery typically fits into a consistent three-step pattern. Understanding this blueprint is crucial, as it enables you to detect the warning signs swiftly.
Stage 1: Obtaining Personal Data
The first stage of identity theft is when criminals steal your personal data. Fraud, phishing scams, data breaches, or hacking are all tools that help thieves collect personal information. Despite that, data breaches remain one of the most popular methods for identity theft.
According to a recent security audit, 2021 was one of the costliest years in terms of data breaches through phishing attacks in the last 17 years. At this point, while the thieves have successfully taken your personal data, they have not yet used it. However, the next stage is actual identity theft.
Stage 2: Using the Stolen Identity
The second phase of identity theft entails a series of attempts from thieves. After stealing the data, they assess its quality and usability. If they successfully exploit your information for their own financial gain, it clearly indicates that you’ve become a victim of identity theft.
Criminals use different strategies to exploit personal data, including:
- Filing fraudulent tax returns
- Engaging in insurance fraud
- Renting and stealing rental cars
- Opening new accounts
- Taking control of existing accounts
- Selling stolen data on illegal markets
- Obtaining additional identity-related documents
Stage 3: Detecting the Identity Theft
While certain identity theft cases can be instantly identities, others are complex and usually are left unreported. Some forms of fraud can remain undetected for an extended period, especially when children are targeted, as they do not typically monitor their credit reports. On the other hand, adults are more likely to notice unfamiliar accounts on their credit reports.
How to Check if Your Identity Has Been Stolen
The longer it takes to discover the identity theft, the more complex it becomes to correct. Below, we highlight the most popular factors and warning signs that tell if your identity has been stolen.
Look for unusual accounts on your credit reports
Your credit report provides a comprehensive overview of accounts opened in your name, inquiries made by lenders who assess your credit history, and any outstanding judgments resulting from unpaid bills. You can detect unfamiliar inquiries, unrecognized accounts, or any negative claims against you.
When reviewing each copy of your credit report, pay close attention to the following:
- Unauthorized inquiries. Lenders typically make hard inquiries on your credit before granting you credit. If you come across any inquiries that you don’t recognize, it may be a sign of identity theft.
- Fraudulent accounts. Look for any suspicious accounts or accounts with co-signers you did not approve. These can indicate that your identity has been compromised.
- Inaccurate personal information. Identity thieves can alter the contact details on your credit file to prevent you from being alerted about their activities. Always check that the listed address and phone number are still accurate.
- Incorrect employment history. Some fraudsters utilize stolen identities for illegal employment purposes, known as employment identity theft. If your credit report includes employment information, ensure that you recognize all the listed employers.
To access your credit report at no cost, you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Normally, you are entitled to one free annual credit report from major credit bureaus, such as Experian. To ensure thorough credit monitoring, it’s vital to check your credit file with all three major credit reporting agencies. This is necessary because certain lenders may only report to a few of these agencies.
Review any Suspicious Activity on Your Bank Account Statements
Carefully monitoring your bank and credit card statements can help you identify any signs of identity fraud. If you notice unauthorized charges on your credit cards or unexplained withdrawals from your bank account, it’s a huge possibility that someone has accessed your personal data and used it for fraudulent purchases or withdrawals.
Here’s what you need to do to detect potential identity theft at an early stage:
- Pay attention to small unfamiliar charges. Don’t disregard any minor charges that you don’t recognize. Fraudsters often initiate small transactions to test the viability of stolen bank or credit card information before going on full-on mode to large-scale fraud.
- Check your account statements. Check your bank statements as soon as they become available. The quicker you identify signs of fraud, the better your chances of reversing unauthorized charges or recovering your funds.
- Enable transaction alerts. Particularly threshold alerts notify you of suspicious or unusual transactions across your bank accounts or investments. This is an additional layer of protection in case your bank overlooks any signs of identity theft.
Keep Track of Your Bills and Mail in General
Keeping awareness of your monthly bills and checking their arrival regularly is an under-appreciated practice. If you suspect that a bill fails to arrive, this could indicate potential identity theft. It suggests that someone may have illicitly obtained your information and altered your account’s mailing address.
In general, your mailbox serves as an effective warning system against identity theft. One common method scammers employ is physical mail theft, where they surf through your mail to access valuable info. Criminals specifically target official documents and other mail containing your personal and financial details. However, you can keep criminals one step further by purchasing a locked mailbox.
Don’t Carry Multiple ID Documents at Once
Make sure to remove any unnecessary credit cards from your wallet or purse. It’s best to carry just one or two credit cards and have one form of identification, like your driver’s license, when traveling. Additionally, never store your Social Security card in your wallet, as it’s the number one target for criminals.
To ensure your safety and protect against identity theft, it’s very important that you’re aware of the whereabouts of all your ID documents and credit cards at all times. Losing or having any of the following items stolen puts you at risk of identity theft.
If you notice that your wallet, passport, insurance card, or any other ID document is missing, report it to the appropriate authorities ASAP.
Pay Attention to Your Tax Documents
Beware of fraudsters who can exploit your information by filing fraudulent tax returns to claim undeserved refunds. Tax identity theft happens when individuals misuse your Social Security Number (SSN) and other personal details to file a fake tax return on your behalf, aiming to steal your tax refund.
Carefully review any notices from the IRS to ensure you don’t overlook important details regarding issues like unpaid tax liabilities. If you encounter rejection from the IRS when attempting to submit your tax return, it may indicate that someone has already submitted a tax return using your name.
Be Vigilant with Suspicious Phone Calls and Emails
Be very cautious when receiving calls from credit card companies, debt collectors, or utility service providers. If you receive a suspicious call supposedly from a bank, it might indicate that someone is attempting to apply for a credit card or open a bank account using your identity.
That said, receiving a bunch of unusual emails doesn’t automatically mean that your email account has been hacked, but it should still raise your concern. Data breaches often result in compromised emails and phone numbers, making them perfect targets for identity thieves.
Given the circumstances, it’s possible that you may receive notifications regarding new accounts created in your name or transactions flagged by your bank or credit card company. Be aware always to check unknown devices and unfamiliar verification codes that are sent to your device, especially if you haven’t requested them.
How Do Criminals Steal Your Personal Information?
Fraudsters target individuals by hacking into bank accounts, emails or simply purchasing personal information off the dark web. As for companies, data leaks and cyberattacks not only damage their reputation but also can result in the loss of personal data.
Here’s a short list of the most popular identity theft methods:
- Phishing. Fraudsters send emails posing as a legitimate business, person, or government organization, asking individuals to share personal information, such as name, address, card, or bank account details.
- Physical theft. This is an unauthorized acquisition of personal information-containing documents. For example, dumpster diving or stealing mail. These documents may include names, addresses, account numbers, as well as sensitive data like bank statements.
- Scam calls. Criminals call their victims pretending to be customer support or other service providers, such as shipping companies, to deceive them into sharing personal details.
- Hacking. Cybercriminals hack into computer systems to steal identity and credit card details, banking data, and other sensitive information that might be valuable for fraudulent purposes.
- Inside jobs. Sometimes staff members can abuse their power at financial institutions or other important positions to steal money or gain a financial advantage by offering stolen credentials on the dark web.
What Should You Do in Case Your Identity Was Stolen?
Once you realize you might have become an identity theft victim, you must act immediately. Since it can take years to discover that your identity is stolen, the best way is to take a proactive approach.
Trying to keep your sensitive data away from fraudsters isn’t a hassle — it’s an absolute must, especially since the financial damage of identity theft can result in thousands of dollars.
Here’s what you need to do to recover your identity:
- Freeze your credit.
- Force unfamiliar devices to sign out of your account.
- Contact your bank to cancel checking and savings accounts to get new credit cards.
- File an identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. File a police report and contact local law enforcement.
- Regularly change passwords.
- Implement identity verification, especially if you’re a business owner.
Identity theft cases have wide-ranging consequences, resulting in hefty fines, non-compliance, or chargebacks, not to mention loss of trust, even for major brands.
iDenfy’s Approach to Identity Verification
For financial companies, especially the ones that handle large volumes of data, the first step to security is Know Your Customer (KYC) verification. At iDenfy, we provide AI-powered and real human manual supervision identity verification, helping you detect stolen identities in real-time.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, we invite you to contact us for a free demo to find out how we can customize ID verification to fit your needs.