Is Someone Using Your Identity?
Identity theft happens every day.
In 2021 alone, the Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million identity theft reports.
With so many people affected, you're probably wondering if someone has stolen your identity.
In this guide, we'll reveal the top red flags that indicate identity fraud, expose the most common types of scams, and show you how to spot the different types of identity theft.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
To steal your identity, con artists need your personal information. Here are some of the most common identity theft techniques.
Identity thieves will send spam emails, texts, or even call you pretending to be a representative from Facebook, a government agency, or law enforcement.
They'll use social engineering attacks to pressure you to "confirm your identity" by asking for personal information such as your Social Security number, and then use that information to scam you online and commit crimes.
If a thief comes across your driver's license or Social Security card, they can use that information to commit identity fraud. You probably didn't know this, but criminals don't need much to steal your identity. Your ID alone provides enough information that can be used for identity theft.
Modern day scammers use emerging cyber threats to hack a company's database or obtain hacked information from the Dark Web.
Stolen data can include any personal information you've saved on a shopping website, from passwords to credit card details.
Believe it or not, identity thieves with shifty eyes can steal your identity by lurking over your shoulder while you're entering login details to important online accounts on your mobile device.
Another classic shoulder surfing move also happens at the ATM while you're entering your debit card pin number to withdraw cash.
10 Ways to Recognize Identity Theft
1. Your credit report doesn't seem accurate
Reviewing your credit history is one of the most effective ways to know if your identity has been stolen.
Unfortunately, most people don't check their credit report until it's too late. For example, imagine you're attempting to buy a new car at the dealership but the lender denies you a line of credit. This could be a sign of credit theft.
If you suspect fraud, request a free credit report from a credit bureau. Place this request with any one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. You can also get a free credit report from the federally-approved AnnualCreditReport.com.
Check for unfamiliar charges on your credit card accounts or suspicious inquiries on your credit file. All major credit bureaus will typically include these details in your credit report, which will impact your overall credit score. If you find any evidence of fraudulent activity on your credit report, you may be a victim of identity theft.
2. Suspicious activity on your credit card and bank statements
Credit card fraud was the second-most common type of ID theft in 2020. 2020 was the first year in history to document more than two million cases of fraud.
Monitoring your bank account and credit card statement can help protect yourself against most types of financial fraud.
Look for unauthorized charges or withdrawals on all your debit and credit accounts. Don't ignore the small transactions either, as thieves will often start with a test purchase to see whether a card works — and to gauge how vigilant the account holder is.
3. Unexpected physical mail
What's inside your mailbox can be a red flag for identity theft.
The first and most obvious sign is unfamiliar mail. If you see credit card statements or letters from agencies you don't recognize, it could be a sign of loan fraud. Meaning, someone is applying for loans or credit cards in your name and possibly racking up fraudulent charges that you could be held responsible for.
4. Missing physical mail
210 million packages were stolen from Americans in 2021.
Identity thieves will steal packages right off your front porch. They'll steal mail directly from your mailbox, and even submit a change of address request to try and route all your letters and packages to an authorized address.
It's especially important to monitor your physical mail when you're expecting sensitive deliveries, like a new credit card or a replacement Social Security card.
5. Identification documents are lost (or stolen)
It's critical that you know where all of your identifying documents and debit/credit cards are at all times. If any of the following items are lost or stolen, you may be at risk for identity theft:
- Personal electronic devices
- Driver's license
- Social Security card
- Debit card or debit card number
- Credit card or credit card number
- Insurance card
While you're at it, remove any extra credit cards from your purse or wallet. It's best to travel with just one or two credit cards, along with one form of ID, like your driver's license.
Never store your Social Security card in your wallet. Your Social Security number is at the top of every identity thief's wish list, and you can't afford to let it fall into the wrong hands.
6. Suspicious phone calls and voicemails
We've all seen the "Scam Likely" caller ID label before. Sure, it's easy to ignore robocalls, telemarketers, and automated voicemails. But it could be a sign of a deeper problem.
Paying close attention to those unwanted calls and voicemails could help you recognize identity theft. Beware of unsolicited calls from debt collectors, credit card companies, and utility companies.
If you receive a suspicious call from a financial institution, it may indicate that an identity thief is applying for credit cards or attempting to open bank accounts in your name.
For a closer look at how prevalent spam calls have become, here's a segment from CNBC.
7. Suspicious emails and text messages
A flurry of strange emails doesn't necessarily mean your inbox has been hacked. But it's still a cause for concern. Your email address and phone number are often compromised whenever data breaches occur. Comparitech found that 49% of U.S. companies experienced a data breach in 2021.
Given how widespread this problem has become, you might get notifications about new accounts created in your name, or flagged transactions from your bank or credit card.
8. Unfamiliar SMS verification codes
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is a popular method of limiting access to your online accounts by requiring two methods of identity verification.
When you enable 2FA on services like Gmail, PayPal, Amazon, Facebook and others, you'll be asked to verify your identity with a one-time code.
But what happens if you receive an SMS containing a verification code that you never requested?
It means an identity thief has successfully decoded your password, and if not for 2FA, your account would have been compromised.
Unfortunately, 2FA via SMS creates security vulnerabilities due to a new type of scam called SIM swapping.
Therefore, instead of receiving 2FA codes via SMS, use an authentication app such as Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, or Okta.
9. Your income tax return is way off
Tax fraud is a simple, but lucrative scam. An identity thief will impersonate you by reporting income that qualifies you for a tax refund — except the thief cashes the check, then vanishes.
Beware of notifications that a tax return has been filed on your behalf, or if you receive a W-2 (or other tax forms) from a company you never worked for. You can also go online and review your tax return status on the official IRS website.
10. Unfamiliar devices have access to your online accounts
We're using more devices to access our online accounts than ever before. According to a report by Statista:
"The average American had access to more than ten connected devices in their household in 2020."
Given how many connected devices we use today, it's a good idea to regularly conduct a security review on your most sensitive online accounts.
Check for suspicious activity and thoroughly review all the devices that are currently logged into your online accounts.
Periodically reset your passwords, enable 2FA, and force a logout on all devices.
If you see logins from unfamiliar locations or devices, sign out of those sessions and change your password immediately.
Identity Theft Victim's Recovery Plan
1. Change all your passwords
Preventing identity theft starts with having strong and unique passwords. Most people know they need to routinely change all their passwords, but often put off doing it.
Change your usernames and easily guessable passwords to avoid unauthorized access. Also, use a secure password manager like Aura.
2. Force all unfamiliar devices to sign out
There's a good chance your accounts were accessed by foreign devices from unfamiliar locations. You'll need to make sure they're logged out.
3. Notify your bank, cancel your accounts, and enable fraud alerts
When identity theft occurs, you'll need to contact your bank. They'll assist you through the process of canceling your checking account, savings account, and obtaining new credit cards.
Consider enabling a fraud alert or freezing (or locking) your credit.
4. Notify the FTC and file a police report
Submit an identity theft report to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov if your identity has been compromised. The FTC handles fraud cases and can provide assistance.
For more information, follow this fraud victim's checklist for step-by-step instructions on how to recover from fraud.
In addition to that, you should contact local law enforcement and file a police report.
5. Sign up for identity theft protection
Identity theft is a huge hassle, and incredibly frustrating. You'll need to cancel bank accounts, credit cards, and may even need to consider changing your Social Security number.
If you don't know what to do if your identity is stolen, start with identity theft protection.
Aura is equipped to handle many of the above steps proactively. With Aura, you can get family identity theft protection along with a $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy for each adult family member.