The digital age is fantastic for connecting with friends and loved ones and catching up with what our favorite celebrities are doing at a moment’s notice. However, besides this convenience, there are also downsides to this digital age, with identity theft certainly being a major issue.
As more and more people get access to technology, identity theft keeps rising. For instance, in the first quarter of 2017 there were 100,000 instances of identity theft reported in the USA. During the first quarter of 2021, well over 500,000 instances of identity theft were reported. Fast forward to 2023, the FTC so far has received a total of 1.4 million reports of identity theft.
There are criminals and scammers out there who want nothing more than to steal your identity so they can purchase items in your name, rack up debts, and take part in other nefarious activities, all using your name. If you don’t want your credit score (and life) to be ruined, knowing how to identify if you are a victim of identity theft is crucial. So, how do you do this, and what can you do about it if it happens?
- Identity theft, particularly the digital variety, is prevalent.
- There could be financial and digital indications that your identity has been stolen.
- There are various steps to follow if your identity has been stolen, as well as measures you can take to prevent your identity from being stolen in the first place.
- Take a look at the Batten Marketplace for some of the best up to date security measures to keep your identity protected!
Take a look at this article on how to avoid financial fraud in the first place!
Understanding Identity Theft
Identity theft is when a criminal steals any of your personal information. This could include your credit card information, bank account information, Social Security number, or any other type of information that can be used to impersonate you in a legal sense.
There are many different ways to commit identity theft. Some thieves may try to hack your computer and access your sensitive information online or on your hard drive, whereas others might go looking through ash bins for old credit card and bank account statements.
The fact of the matter is that once your information has been stolen, a thief can easily alter your personal information, use your money, and ruin your credit rating. Nowadays, online and digital identity theft is prevalent.
Seeing as so many people do their banking and purchasing online, it provides tech savvy criminals with a fantastic opportunity to steal your money digitally. This often happens through deceptive text messages and emails, scam retail websites, and so on and so forth.
Different Types of Identity Theft
Before we start talking about the signs you need to know to identify identity theft, let’s first talk about the different kinds that exist.
Social Security Identity Theft
One of the most common types of identity theft, and one of the most detrimental, is Social Security number identity theft. This is extremely dangerous, because thieves can apply for loans, credit cards, and other such things with your Social Security number. This number can also be used to receive benefits, such as disability and medical benefits in your name.
Medical Identity Theft
Although not the most common type of identity theft, it happens when someone poses as you in a medicinal sense to get free health care from the system.
Financial Identity Theft
Yet another type of identity theft to be familiar with is financial identity theft. Naturally, this often ends up being extremely detrimental to a person’s well-being. Here, a thief uses your identity to obtain benefits, services, goods, credit cards, or even gain access to your banking information. This often results in a ruined credit rating as well as finances being totally wiped out.
Child Identity Theft
Child identity theft is much more common than you’d like to think. This is when a thief uses the identity of a child for various purposes.
Kids usually don’t have information associated with them that might create problems for perpetrators or criminals looking to achieve certain means. A child’s Social Security number could be used to get loans, avoid arrest warrants, find employment, purchase a house, or anything else of the sort.
Synthetic Identity Theft
A very interesting form of identity theft is known as synthetic identity theft. This is when a criminal uses stolen or real information along with fake information to create a new identity. This can then be used to make fraudulent purchases, open fraudulent accounts, and much more.
Tax Identity Theft
It is extremely detrimental to your legal and financial standing when a thief commits tax identity theft. This happens when a person uses your personal information, such as your Social Security number, to file fake federal or state tax returns. The point, of course, is to collect a refund.
It is essential to not only know the different types of identity theft, but to know if you are a victim.
Simply put, if someone steals your identity, they can create a lot of debt in your name (that you might not be able to pay back), they can ruin your credit rating, make fraudulent purchases, and much more.
Ultimately, an identity thief can totally ruin your life. Therefore, it’s all about being vigilant and being able to detect identity theft as early as possible, so you can put a stop to it before any real damage is done.
How to Know if Identity Theft is Occurring
We’ll take a much closer look at all of the red flags to look out for to determine whether or not your financial and personal information has been stolen, but right now let’s go through a quick list on all of the biggest signs. You might be a victim of identity theft if:
- You notice that you’re having credit score issues. This is especially the case if your credit score drops all of a sudden.
- You’re suddenly getting many more scam calls on your phone.
- You notice a variety of random credit card charges that you certainly did not approve. In this case, your banking information may have been stolen.
- You start getting strange emails or unexpected mail, particularly subscription notifications, random bills, and other such things.
- You’re expecting a variety of pieces of mail or bills to arrive, but they never do.
- There are companies that keep contacting you about various items or programs that you never signed up for. Someone else may have done so in your name.
- Debt collectors start coming to your door. This is a surefire sign that someone has taken out a loan in your name.
Financial Red Flags
One of the easiest ways to tell if your identity has been stolen is by looking out for a variety of financial red flags. After all, generally speaking, the main point of stealing an identity is to get access to the victim’s funds.
Therefore, if you start seeing unexpected charges on your credit card, particularly large items and big ticket charges, then chances are that your identity has been stolen. One way or another, someone has managed to either access your credit card or to open a new credit card in your name, which is now being used to purchase illegal items.
It may also be the case that someone has managed to open a new bank account in your name or even to access your bank account. If you notice that there is money missing out of your bank account all of a sudden, chances are pretty high that your identity has been stolen, or at the very least, that someone has gained access to your banking information, particularly your PIN or password.
Other financial signs that your identity has been stolen includes getting random bills in your name for services that you don’t have. Someone may have signed up for Internet or phone plans in your name, or for any other types of subscriptions, whether for a magazine or otherwise, for which you are now receiving the bill. Someone has subscribed for those services, and if it wasn’t you, then it is an identity thief.
The biggest sign that your identity has been stolen is if you start having credit score problems. Now, while we wouldn’t complain if your credit score increases, this is generally not what happens when someone steals your identity. If your identity is stolen, those thieves use your information to make various purchases, take out loans and mortgages, and so on and so forth, therefore destroying your credit rating.
There are also some digital footprints that you may notice if your identity has been stolen. First and foremost, if any of your accounts have been breached, then it is likely that someone has already stolen or is in the process of stealing your identity.
If you receive notifications that some kind of unauthorized device has tried to access your account, or has even tried changing passwords, then you can rest assured that someone is in the process of stealing your identity.
The issue might even be as simple as seeing new accounts added to your current services. For instance, you might have a Netflix streaming account, and all of a sudden, there are more accounts besides yours.
Furthermore, if you start receiving many suspicious emails, text messages, and anything else of the sort, you may also be a victim of identity theft.
Never answer or respond to these text messages or emails. If you do, it gives these thieves a good way to steal your personal and financial information. Due to the prevalence of digital identity theft, using a good anti-virus system like Norton is recommended.
Steps to Take if Your Identity is Stolen
If you think that your identity has been stolen, take the following steps to ensure your safety and to recover your information as quickly as possible.
- Immediately examine all your accounts to see if there is any suspicious activity. This includes your bank accounts, credit card accounts, tax accounts, social media profiles, and anything else of this sort.
- If you notice that your identity has been stolen, the first thing you need to do is to contact the important organizations and your bank immediately. This is especially the case in financial issues. You need to contact your bank, credit card provider, and local tax office immediately to inform them of the situation. If they see any suspicious activity or that money has been stolen from you already, they can start taking action from their end.
- At the very least, if you notice that your credit card and banking information has been breached, you need to immediately change your usernames and passwords. Chances are that a thief was able to access one of your accounts using your usernames and passwords, so these all need to be changed right away.
- If you have not already done so, you also need to contact the police to inform them of the situation. Although it is very difficult for police to catch identity thieves, keeping law enforcement agencies alerted certainly helps..
- For the time being, until the situation is resolved, it is also a good idea to shut down your social media profiles. Social media is not the most secure in the world, and chances are that someone might have gained access to your information through your social media accounts.
Preventative Measures: Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
The best way to stop identity theft is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. So, let’s go over tips you can follow to prevent identity theft from occurring.
Never Share Personal Info
Unless for exceptional circumstances, you shouldn’t ever share your personal information with anybody. Don’t provide people with your name, address, phone number, or anything else of the sort, and certainly don’t provide anybody with any financial or banking information.
Use A good Identity Security Platform
There are some special security platforms and systems that can help you monitor your identity situation.
Keep All Devices and Security Measures Up to Date
Seeing as identity theft is largely digital in today’s world, a great idea is to ensure that your devices and security measures are kept up to date. This means using the newest of technology and making sure that your virus and anti-malware systems are up to date. Identity Guard can help you do just that!
Don’t Click on Suspicious Links
A really easy way for criminals to gain access to your information is by sending you text messages or emails with phony messages, along with links, that you then click on. Somebody might say that you have an overdue bill or that you’ve won a prize, and then when you go to click on the link, all of a sudden your information has been stolen.
Keep Your Mail on Lockdown
Although it’s becoming less common when compared to digital identity theft, thieves will still go through mailboxes to steal your mail, particularly for tax information, Social Security numbers, credit card information, and more. Therefore, make sure to keep your mailbox locked up.
Don’t Reuse Passwords
No matter how strong your password is, there’s always a way to crack it. Therefore, a great idea is to use different passwords for all of your crucial accounts. This way, even if the hacker figures one password out, they still won’t be able to get into all of your other accounts. To help manage your passwords, you could always use a service like Dashlane.
Don’t Use Public Connections or Devices
A really easy way to have your personal and financial information stolen is by using public devices and connections. These may have already been infiltrated with viruses and malware, so it’s best to stay away from them.
Don’t Divulge Your Info on Social Media
Although we all like to share details on social media, don’t share information with people that you don’t know, and realistically, don’t share any crucial information with anybody.
Check Your Credit
To prevent your information and identity from being stolen, doing regular credit checks to monitor your credit score is also a good idea.
Use a VPN
Using a VPN or virtual private network is another great way to help protect your identity online. Effectively, this allows you to surf the web under a shroud of anonymity, so thieves and criminals cannot track you or your information. Find out if Surfshark or NordVPN is the right option for you!
Bottom line: identity theft is a growing problem in the USA and around the world. If you aren’t careful, someone might access your banking, personal, and tax information to your detriment.
People could take out loans for thousands of thousands of dollars, leaving you with the bill and a completely ruined credit score. Therefore, taking the necessary steps to prevent identity theft is recommended, and if it does occur, you need to act immediately.
How To Identify Identity Theft: Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s quickly answer some of your most frequently asked questions about identity theft.
How Quick Should I Act if I Suspect My Identity Has Been Stolen?
You should act immediately if your identity has been stolen. Do not wait at all.
Can Identity Theft Affect My Credit Score Even if I Haven’t Lost Money?
Yes, identity theft can affect your credit score even if you haven’t yet lost money. Someone may have taken a loan out in your name that they aren’t paying back.
Are There Specific Tools or Services That Help in Monitoring Identity Theft?
Yes, there are many specific tools or services out there that can help you monitor identity theft and actively prevent it. Identity Guard is one of these tools!
How Can I Ensure My Online Activities Are Secure from Identity Thieves?
To ensure that your online activities are safe from identity thieves, use the most up-to-date hardware and software, make sure to have virus and anti-malware systems in place, use VPN (virtual private networks), and always keep your passwords secure and ever-changing. Using password managers like 1Password can help too!