No one wants to become a victim of identity theft. But if it happens to you, be prepared to take action. In addition to following precautions to protect your identity, you need to know how to spot fraudulent activity and take action if you suspect your personal information has been compromised.
How to spot suspicious activity
Monitoring your accounts can help you spot and report potential issues right away. Early action may help minimize the effects of identity theft, like credit issues, legal problems, and financial losses. Be on the lookout for the following signs that your personal information may be compromised:
- Unexpected charges show up on your account. Someone may have used your credit card information to make purchases you aren’t aware of. Keeping track of your spending helps you easily identify unfamiliar charges.
- Unrecognizable accounts or inaccurate information appears on your credit report. Get in the habit of reviewing your credit report at least every year. There’s no excuse not to—federal law allows you to get a free copy every 12 months. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get started.
- Bills or statements unexpectedly stop arriving by USPS. If bills you normally receive by mail stop coming, someone could have changed your billing address without your consent.
- Cashed checks are significantly out of order on your bank statement. Use checks in order so that spotting an anomaly in the sequence is easy. That anomaly could mean someone has stolen your checks or ordered more without your permission.
- Banks and financial institutions freeze accounts unexpectedly. If your bank or credit cards suddenly don’t work, someone could have maxed out your limit without your knowledge or your bank may have flagged your accounts due to suspicious activity.
- You receive credit cards you haven’t applied for. You may receive “pre-approval” letters by mail as an advertising tactic, but if you receive cards you never applied for, it could mean someone has opened credit in your name without your consent.
- You are denied credit you feel you should qualify for. Large purchases or rental agreements often require a credit check. If you receive a denial you aren’t prepared for, it could be a sign that someone else has been making bad decisions with your good credit.
- You receive notification that you’ve been denied credit that you didn’t apply for. Someone may have used your information fraudulently to apply for credit.
- Debt collectors contact you about merchandise you didn’t buy or unfamiliar bills. If you are being hounded by debt collectors about unfamiliar bills, don’t assume they have the wrong number. Someone could have used your information to rack up unpaid bills in your name.
- You receive notifications about address, password, or information changes that you did not make. Pay attention to notices of changes to any of your personal information.
What to do if you suspect fraudulent activity
If for any reason you suspect that your personal information is at risk, take the applicable actions below.
- Contact your financial institutions. Depending on their security practices, they may flag your accounts or temporarily suspend activity until the issue is resolved.
- Contact the credit reporting agencies. Report any identity theft incidents as quickly as possible to one of the three major credit bureaus listed below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one—Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion—because the credit bureau you call is required to contact the other two.
When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, any new credit requests or changes to existing account information will be reviewed very carefully to verify the requestor is really you.
- Report phishing emails. The Anti-Phishing Working Group is an industry and law-enforcement association working to eliminate Internet scams. The Group’s Web site, antiphishing.org, has a link to report phishing and includes other helpful information.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft web site. At gov/idtheft, you can customize your plan of action by answering a few questions about your experience. You also can stay up-to-date on major security breaches that could affect you and find out what your next steps should be.
Last Edited: January 23, 2018