Identity theft is a serious crime that affects nearly 60 million Americans. Not only can it temporarily affect your credit score and cause financial headaches, but it can even result in other issues, such as not being able to claim government benefits and more.
Because of how serious identity theft is, you need to make sure you are following best practices when it comes to credit card security and personal info management. This is the best way to ensure that your identity doesn’t end up in the hands of fraudsters.
Whether you have been a victim of identity theft before or are looking to avoid this issue in the future, it is important to take the right precautions for keeping your identity safe. Additionally, you should also be aware of the red flags that start showing up once your identity has been compromised. Read on to learn more about a few of the signs that you have been the victim of identity theft.
1. New Accounts Under Your Name
Have you received an email notifying you of a new credit account under your name even though you did not apply for one? This is one of the signs that your identity has been stolen. In 2019, there were 246,763 reports of unauthorized credit card accounts opened under someone’s name. It is one of the most common signs of fraud, consisting of 45.7% of the top 5 types of identity thefts.
Fortunately, it’s easy to find out if someone has opened an account under your name. You can request a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus to check if there are accounts that you are unfamiliar with. If there are, be sure to act quickly by contacting the credit bureau ASAP.
2. Credit Card Purchases You Don’t Remember Making
If you receive your credit card bill and see purchases that you do not remember making, you might have been a victim of identity theft. Some U.S. banks send a notification to their users to easily block a card when an unauthorized purchase has been made, but sometimes fraudulent purchases go undetected.
This is why it is important to check your credit card and bank statements on a regular basis, with many experts recommending that you do so monthly.
3. Your Credit Card Company Notified You of Suspicious Activity
U.S. credit companies handle a lot of identity theft cases, and they are continuously trying to make their systems more secure. Because of this, your credit card company may notify you if there are purchases that don’t seem to be you, such as using your credit card in a different state or having a big purchase if it is not your routine.
However, sometimes credit card companies have other types of fraud protection, such as deep web monitoring. This can give you an even better sense of how safe your sensitive information really is. If your credit company notifies you that your email, phone number, date of birth or other information has been found on the dark web, contact the company immediately to find out what to do next.
4. Your Credit Score Suddenly Went Down
In general, it is good to check your credit score a few times a year, not just when you are going to take out a loan, open a new line of credit or apply to rent an apartment.
If you notice a dip in your score and cannot account for it, then it may be a sign that your identity has been compromised and someone is using it to open new accounts. Keep in mind that a credit score is not the same as a credit report. Ordering your credit report won’t show you your credit score.
In order to see your FICO score or another credit score given to you based on your credit history, you will either need to purchase it from a company or, better yet, sign up for free credit monitoring through your bank or credit card company.
5. Your Card Has Been Declined
Have you tried dining in your favorite restaurant only for the waiter to tell you that your card has been declined? One of the reasons could be identity theft. Fraudsters who got a hold of your card will try to max it out before you find out and cancel your card.
Sometimes, the card company itself might put a freeze on your card or even cancel it and issue you a new one without telling you. This can be inconvenient, but ultimately it can save you from having to deal with the consequences of fraud later on.
6. You Have Lost Your Card
Although losing a credit or debit card is not a sign of identity theft itself, it is a good reason to cancel your card, order a new card, freeze your credit and request a copy of your credit score, in that order.
If you do not move quickly after losing a card, there’s a chance that someone can snatched it and use it without your knowledge. Even if you are unsure if you lost your card inside your home or outside, you should still cancel it just in case.
In the meantime, you can use cash or another card to make your purchases. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have more than one card.
What Happens Next
If caught early, identity theft may end up being nothing more than a slight inconvenience. You may end up simply having to sign up for credit monitoring, order a new card and dispute some unknown charges. However, if you do not take the right steps early on, compromised personal information can end up being much more serious.
In general, it is a good idea to contact one of the three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) if you suspect your identity has been stolen. They should be able to give you vital information on what your next steps should be.
If your identity theft was serious enough that it is hard to dispute, your credit score may take more than a short-term hit. In that case, it may be wise to take steps to boost or rebuild your credit. In this case, a secured credit card can come in handy, since these types of cards are easier to get approved for than regular credit cards.
Plus, you can get a card with extra protection, such as dark web monitoring or a strong fraud guarantee to ensure that you do not have identity theft problems in the future.