Have you recently lost your wallet or ID? Perhaps you misplaced your document folders or accidentally clicked a suspicious link.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that from January 2020 to June 2022, more than $822 million had been lost to fraud, including identity (ID) theft.
So we understand why you’re worried that your information might have been compromised and used in fraudulent activities. It’s normal to be cautious because if your identity is stolen, it can lead to serious financial troubles and even legal consequences.
We looked into the official government sites and resources from ID theft authorities to know how you can check identity theft. We also gathered tips from experts and people who’ve been victims of this crime.
In this article, we’ll discuss the most effective method to check ID theft for free. So read until the end and avoid missing out on the crucial factors to look into when checking for identity theft and deal with unnerving consequences, such as losing money or retirement benefits or owing debts you didn’t get.
How do you check for identity theft?
Most victims of ID theft don’t realize that their identities are being used in fraudulent activities. So if you suspect that your information has been compromised, it’s important to check if someone is using your identity.
Here are the steps you can take:
- Check credit card statements
Victims of identity theft experience unauthorized purchases using their credit cards. Check your credit card statements for transactions that you don’t recognize. If you have a credit card app, you can log in to your account and go to the statement information or transactions log.
Before, you might not go into the details, but this is the time to review your card’s physical or electronic statements. Should you notice any suspicious activity, contact your credit card provider immediately. They can freeze your account, block further transactions, and launch investigations.
- Run a credit report
You can also find out if your credit has been compromised by getting a credit report from the national credit bureaus.
Check your records of loans, credit cards, and bills. If you notice discrepancies, such as new credit lines you didn’t open and a huge drop in your credit score, file a report.
You can get a free credit report from the three national credit bureaus once every 12 months.
You must be a US resident to be eligible for the free credit report. Here’s how to create your account:
- Go to the website.
- Provide your full name, home address, zip code, and email address.
- You’ll be required to give your Social Security Number (SSN), so make sure you connect to your home network or use a virtual private network (VPN).
Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax provide free weekly credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com until December 31, 2022. This is by far the most effective way to check ID theft for free until you’re sure you’ve stopped the fraud and overcame the risks.
You can take advantage of this program, which was initiated because of the rising number of credit fraud cases due to the pandemic.
- Track and review your bills
You also need to monitor your finances. For example, it’s important to know your bills and their due dates. If you stopped receiving the statements, it might be a sign that someone changed your billing address.
You should also be wary of new bills you receive. If you can’t remember signing up for a subscription or buying something new, someone might be compromising your personally identifiable information (PII).
You should contact your service provider immediately.
- Use identity theft protection services
You can also sign up for an identity monitoring service.
ID theft protection services often have subscription plans to monitor your PII in credit applications, websites, and public records.
You’ll be notified if someone uses your identity for malicious purposes.
Here’s a list of identity theft protection services you might want to try:
What are the signs of identity theft?
Thieves can use your identity in various ways. You can watch out for these red flags if you think someone has stolen your identity.
- Unusual charges on your credit card
It’s helpful to check your monthly credit card bills and bank statements and review even small purchases. Often, identity thieves buy cheap things or services before making their bigger moves, which can cost up to thousands of dollars.
They can also immediately go on a shopping spree for expensive items, so it’s crucial that you check the transactions immediately and block them by calling your credit card provider.
- New credit cards you didn’t apply for
Usually, identity thieves want your information because they’ll use it to open another account under your name. They aim to max out the credit card before you can notice the fraudulent transactions.
- Erroneous credit reports
You can run a free credit report to review it for suspicious activities. For example, if your credit score is decreasing and you can’t explain why, someone might be applying for loans under your name.
Victims of identity theft may also have high credit scores without doing anything. If this happens, someone might be extending your credit name before using it for malicious purposes.
- Denied credit application
If you know you have good credit, but a bank or financial institution suddenly denies your application, it might be a sign that someone has used your name to apply for loans without paying them.
- Errors on tax transcript or Social Security statement
Identity thieves may also steal your information to file for a tax refund. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may inform you if multiple tax returns were filed under your name.
You can also check your Social Security statement at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.
- Inaccurate medical records
Someone might also use your information to use your health benefits. Should your health insurance provider deny a legitimate claim, ask for a statement of accounts. This way, you can track if the identity thief has maxed out your benefits.
- Collection notices for unknown debts
We recommend contacting the collection agency if you don’t remember owing money to that particular creditor. Identity thieves often use another person’s credit to buy expensive things.
- Missing bills or statements
Identity thieves may also file for a change of address to collect sensitive information. If you experience not getting monthly bills for up to two months, you can contact your bank and service providers immediately.
- Unexplainable warrant of arrest
It may seem extreme, but someone can use your identity while committing a crime. You may receive a warrant personally or uncover it if a police officer stops you during a random checkpoint.
How does identity theft happen?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it for malicious purposes. It can happen online and offline.
- Physical stealing – Stealing wallets or bags to acquire information from your physical IDs or credit and debit cards
- Dumpster diving – Digging through trash for confidential information, like names, account numbers, and addresses written on physical mail
- Bogus phone calls – Calling you on the phone and convincing you to provide sensitive information. They usually pretend to be officers from private or public agencies.
- Phishing – Sending fake messages, emails, and websites to lure victims into giving confidential information
- Hacking – Hacking sensitive information shared on unsecured websites and public Wi-Fi
- Malware – Viruses, spyware, worms, trojan horses, and keystroke loggers are used to harm your computer or mobile devices to obtain sensitive data
It’s important to be aware of these methods so you’ll know what you’re up against and you can recognize potential threats.
What are the types of identity theft?
We compiled identity theft examples you must be wary of:
It happens when scammers apply for loans using your name. You might receive collection notices for debts that are not yours.
It can negatively affect your credit score, which can prevent you from buying a vehicle or property.
Credit card fraud
It occurs when an ID thief uses your credit card information to make unauthorized purchases. They may also take cash advances using your account.
This type of identity theft causes hundreds of thousands worth of debt.
Social Security disability benefits scam
Scammers may impersonate a Social Security Administration (SSA) representative to lure victims into giving away their personal information.
As a result, vulnerable people will lose their money unknowingly.
Tax identity theft fraud
ID thieves may also file a tax return early to receive a tax refund under your name. So when you ask for a refund, the Internal Revenue Service will deny it.
Scammers may also collect your information, including SSN, address, and driver’s license details to claim unemployment benefits under your name.
As a result, the US Department of Labor may withhold the benefits you can use to pay for living expenses.
Medical identity theft
A fraudster may also receive medical care under your name. This type of theft causes inaccurate medical records and denied claims. Hence, you might not be unable to afford medical treatments.
What can you do if you suspect identity theft?
Scams may cause emotional distress and helplessness to victims, but know that you can still do something about it.
Here’s what you can do when ID theft occurs:
- Review your credit report and card transactions for any suspicious activity.
- File an identity theft report to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting https://www.identitytheft.gov/#/.
- Get an identity theft affidavit from the FTC.
- Report the incident to your bank, credit union, or law enforcement agencies.
- Call or email the three major credit unions (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Request them to place a fraud alert on your credit record. You can also ask them to freeze your credit.
- Change all your passwords and lock access to cards, if possible.
Once you’ve proven identity theft, you can apply for a new SSN, driver’s license, debit card, or credit card.
How to protect yourself from identity theft?
Prevention is always better to protect yourself and prevent identity theft.
Here are some of the best practices to safeguard your information from fraudsters.
- Since someone can use your SSN with your name, avoid carrying your Social Security card or any documents with your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
- Give your SSN only when required by credible organizations or companies.
- Use anti-spam software, firewalls, and VPN to protect your online data.
- Change passwords regularly, especially for online banking apps.
- Avoid giving personal information to anyone, especially to strangers.
- Review your credit report regularly.
- Store essential documents in a safe place inside your home.
There’s no one-size-fits-all safety measure, so it’s essential that you have several security strategies in place. A combination of all of these would make your protection much stronger.
How do you recover from identity theft?
First, you need to contact the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.identitytheft.gov/#/. The agency will give you a personal recovery plan, depending on the details you provide.
The FTC also provides identity theft victim assistance by guiding you through each recovery step, tracking your progress, and filling out forms and letters for you.
If your identity is stolen, you’re liable for only $50 of any unauthorized use of your bank accounts, provided that you report it to the FTC within two days after discovery.
That’s how important it is to inform the agency. Your liability increases the longer you wait to file a report.
While identity theft can be a traumatic experience, don’t lose heart! The authorities can help and guide you throughout the whole ordeal, and there are tools you can also utilize to feel safe again.
As soon as you suspect that your personal information has been compromised, quickly take the measures to prevent or stop identity theft. It’s generally easy and free to check if someone is using your ID theft if you know where to look. You can review your credit reports, bills, and bank statements.
Should you find yourself a victim of identity theft, contact the FTC immediately to lessen your liability. We want to remind you to take a deep breath and prepare all the essential details for the concerned agencies to help with your problem.