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Published: Jan 11, 2024 10 min read

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission, often for fraudulent purposes. This is usually done by cybercriminals, who might open new accounts, apply for credit or even receive medical treatment under your name.

Recognizing the signs of identity theft early on is crucial to minimize the damage it can cause. Read on to learn about the ten most common signs that your identity may have been stolen.

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Most Common Warning Signs of Identity Theft

Approximately one third of all Americans have been the victim of identity theft at least once in their lives. That’s double the global average. Scammers will use any method they can think of to trick people into revealing their passwords, SSN (Social Security number) and other personal data. This can include email scams, fake wi-fi networks, phishing attempts — you name it.

In the face of such concerning statistics, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the common ways criminals can steal your identity. Here are ten signs that may indicate you have been a victim of this crime.

Unexpected bills or statements — or a lack thereof

Receiving account statements you don't recognize, for example, bank statements or credit card statements, is a common sign of ID theft. Bills from unknown accounts could mean that a criminal is using your information to commit fraud.

Conversely, a sudden lack of expected statements might indicate that someone has taken control of your accounts and could be making purchases or withdrawals. Criminals may change the billing address on your accounts, diverting important information away from you in order to hide their tracks.

New credit cards, loans or accounts in your name

Discovering new credit card accounts, bank accounts or loans in your name that you didn't request is a clear sign of identity theft. Thieves often use stolen personal information to open these, leaving victims to deal with the repercussions.

Regularly ask for and monitor your reports from the major credit reporting agencies and catch unauthorized activities early on. You can access a free credit report weekly from each of the three agencies online at annualcreditreport.com.

Unfamiliar inquiries and credit checks

If you find inquiries or credit checks from companies you haven't engaged with, it could mean that someone is attempting to open new accounts or obtain credit using your personal information. Keeping track of your credit reports and being alert to unauthorized inquiries can help you identify and address potential identity theft issues promptly.

Calls or letters from debt collectors

Phone calls or letters for debts you don't recognize are often a warning sign of identity theft. Criminals may use your information to run up debts in your name, and when they go unpaid, debt collection agencies may start contacting you. It's crucial to investigate the debts immediately to determine if they are legitimate or a result of fraud.

Denial of new credit or a loan

If you're unexpectedly denied credit or a loan, it could be due to fraudulent activities on your credit report. Identity thieves may have damaged your credit by opening accounts or accumulating debts in your name, causing your credit score to drop. Keep an eye on your credit reports to catch inaccuracies early and dispute any unauthorized activities.

Unrecognized login attempts

Login attempts from unfamiliar locations to your online accounts are often a precursor to identity theft. Hackers often attempt to access these in order to gather more sensitive information or engage in fraudulent activities.

Many platforms will alert you if there is an unrecognized login attempt from an unfamiliar device. It is crucial to pay attention to these alerts and take them seriously. Other platforms allow you to look through your login history so you can see if there is anything off. Additionally, enabling two-factor authentication can help prevent unauthorized access.

Inaccurate medical records

Fraudsters may use your identity to receive medical care, potentially leading to incorrect information on your records or a maxing out of your benefit limit. Regularly review your medical bills and insurance correspondence for inaccuracies or unfamiliar medical claims and treatments. Then, promptly address any discrepancies with your health insurance company or other healthcare providers.

Missing mail or email

If you start missing important mail or email you are accustomed to receiving from a bank, credit card issuer or other entity, it could mean that someone has gained access to your account and changed your contact information. This tactic is commonly used by identity thieves to intercept sensitive communications, as well as to control and conceal their fraudulent activities. Be vigilant about missing communications and report any suspicious activities to the relevant service providers.

Suspicious tax returns

If you receive notifications from authorities about multiple tax returns or tax refunds filed in your name, or if you're informed that you've earned income from an employer you don't recognize, it may be a red flag. Criminals may use your personal information to file fraudulent tax returns with the IRS and claim refunds.

Exposed information after a data breach

Cybercriminals can use your personal information after it’s exposed in a data breach for all sorts of fraudulent activities. A common tactic for identity thieves is to look for usernames, passwords and account numbers released on the dark web. Stay informed and take the necessary steps to protect yourself after a data breach.

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What to Do if You Suspect Identity Theft

If someone suspects they are a victim of identity theft, it's important they take immediate action to minimize the potential damage and protect their personal information. Below are a few steps that might help if you believe this to be case:

1. Contact the authorities. Report the identity theft to your local law enforcement agency and at identitytheft.gov. File a police report and keep a copy for your personal records. If the theft involves financial accounts, notify the fraud departments of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
If your social security card is lost or stolen, contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213.

2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Contact one of the major credit bureaus, which are required to notify the other two, and request a fraud alert. This will make it more difficult for the identity thief to open new accounts in your name.

3. Close compromised accounts. Contact your financial institutions to close any accounts that may have been compromised. Then, open new ones with updated security measures.

4. Update your PINs and passwords. Change your debit card PIN and the passwords for your online accounts, including email, banking, and social media. Use strong, unique passwords for each one. Alternatively, consider using one of the best password managers to generate and store strong passwords for you.

5. Contact credit card companies. If your credit card number and information has been compromised, contact the card issuer immediately to report unauthorized charges and request a new card.

6. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To report identity theft, visit the FTC's website or call them at the following phone number: 1-877-438-4338. The FTC will be able to provide you with a step-by-step recovery plan.

7. Consider a credit freeze. If you're concerned about ongoing identity fraud, you may want to learn how to freeze your credit. Doing so restricts access to your credit history, making it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts.

8. Consider identity theft protection services. Another option is to pay for identity theft protection services, which offer ongoing account and credit monitoring services. Some also offer restoration services, identity theft insurance and protection for your family from child identity theft.

Summary of 10 Warning Signs of Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing threat in America, where around 33% of people have been affected by it to some extent. Left unchecked, it can have a long-lasting impact on your credit score and finances, leading to major losses. Identifying the signs at an early stage can save you money, time and peace of mind.

Keep an eye out for any irregularities in your credit reports and across your financial accounts. If your information is exposed (e.g. due to a data breach), review your accounts and make any necessary changes to protect yourself. Lastly, consider paying for one of the best identity theft protection services if prevention from this crime is a top priority for you.

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