Anyone can be a victim of identity theft. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are tens of millions of identity theft victims each year, from the unauthorized misuse of an existing account, to the misuse of personal information to open new accounts or other fraud, such as the false tax returns that were filed in our name.
People typically become aware of identity theft when they’re trying to do something such as apply for a loan or rental housing, but are unable to because their credit has been tarnished by others. Here are five signs that you might be a victim of identity theft and what you can do to limit the damage.
- Your Credit Card Rate Rises
You shouldn’t ignore an increase in your credit card’s interest rate, it could be a sign that something in your credit report is making you look like an increased risk and, therefore, you card issuer has raised your rate.
You can get one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Check your report for accounts that you didn’t open and for “hard inquiries,” which occur when lenders run your credit when you apply for a loan, mortgage or credit card. If you discover hard inquiries on your credit report from companies you haven’t authorized to check your credit, that’s a sign that someone else is using your name on credit applications.
- You’re Getting Statements for Accounts You Didn’t Open
If you’re getting letters about accounts or services that you didn’t sign up for, don’t assume that there’s been a mistake and simply toss them in the trash. This is a red flag that someone could be using your personal information. Contact the companies that mailed you the statements and close the accounts immediately.
- You’re Getting Calls From Debt Collectors
This is one of the more obvious signs of identity theft, but it doesn’t always send up a red flag for people,you would be amazed at how many people ignore those calls.
You might assume that calls from people claiming to be bill collectors are actually scams aimed at getting you to divulge your personal information — and oftentimes they are. For that reason, you should never give information such as your birth date or Social Security number over the phone.
However, if you are getting calls from collection agencies, you should find out the name of the lender or service you supposedly owe money to, the date the account was open and the account balance. Then do an internet search for that company. If it is a scam, you’ll likely see reports of it in your search results. If not, call the lender or service directly to find out if it has an account in your name.
- Your Auto Insurance Rate Goes Up Unexpectedly
If your auto insurer raises your premium and you can’t figure out why, it might be a sign that someone has used your identity to get a driver’s license and has racked up traffic violations in your name, take the time to check it out before it becomes a horrible problem.
The signs that someone else is using a driver’s license with your name could be much more obvious. For example, local law enforcement might appear at your door with an arrest warrant if an identity thief living as you is pulled over for a traffic violation and doesn’t show up for court. Or you might get mailings from attorneys seeking to represent you for crimes you didn’t commit
- You Get Ads in the Mail for a Health Condition You Don’t Have
Signs of medical identity theft also can show up in your insurance statements, you need to read these statements carefully to make sure that you actually received the services or treatments that medical providers are reporting to your insurer. If you see a claim or the name of a doctor or hospital you don’t recognize, contact your insurer immediately.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, make sure to contact lenders, companies and service providers to cancel any unauthorized accounts or dispute unauthorized charges, and placing a security freeze on your credit report, which will prevent the credit reporting agencies from releasing your credit report without your consent.