According to a recent report, more than 11.6 million adults in the U.S. were victims of identity fraud in 2011. That's a 13 percent increase in victims in the past year. To protect yourself from the frustrating and potentially financially damaging effects of identity theft, you should be on the lookout for a number of signs that someone may have accessed your personal or financial information.
Signs You May Be an Identity Theft Victim
The most obvious and common sign of identity fraud is charges you did not make showing up on your credit or debit card statement, but there are other, more subtle signs you should also watch for, including:
- You receive calls from creditors or collection agencies related to merchandise or services you did not purchase.
- Your credit card is declined though you know your account should be in good standing. Contact the card issuer immediately to find out if someone else has run up debts on your card.
- You don't receive your credit card bill in the mail. Someone may have stolen your information and had the statements rerouted to their address.
- You receive bills for medical services you did not receive. Accessing personal information through medical records is another form of identity theft that's on the rise.
- You receive a credit or debit card you didn't apply for in the mail or you receive bills for credit cards you don't hold.
- You're denied a loan or credit card or offered a higher interest rate even though you've always had good credit. This could be a sign that someone else has opened accounts using your identity and run up unpaid debts.
- Your credit report contains false information such as wrong addresses, employers, Social Security number, name, or other personal information.
- Your credit report includes inquiries from businesses or credit card companies you do not recognize. This could be a sign that someone is using your identity to apply for credit or loans or open bank accounts.
- You receive a notice of change of address or mail hold that you did not request from the post office.
Protect Your Identity and Your Good Credit
A few simple precautions can help you lower the risk of becoming an identity fraud victim.
- Check your bank statements and bills carefully each month and alert the bank or company immediately if you find charges or changes you did not make to the account.
- Guard your personal information. Don't post phone numbers or other key personal information on your Facebook or other social media account. Don't write your Social Security number on checks or carry it in your wallet. Shred old financial documents and unwanted credit card offers.
- Surprisingly, a high percentage of identity fraud is committed by friends or family, so don't leave your wallet, checkbook, or other sensitive information lying out at home.
- Don't mail checks from your home mailbox.
- Once a year, check your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, the government-approved source for free credit reports.
- If you use your computer for banking or paying bills, make sure you have a firewall and good virus protection program installed. Choose strong passwords for your online accounts and don't use the same one for all accounts.