What would you do if you checked your bank account and saw a $0 balance? Identity theft isn’t too rare of an occurrence these days, yet we often fall into the trap of thinking that it’ll always happen to “someone else”. Unfortunately, we are all somebody else’s “someone else”, which means identity theft can happen to you.
Your identity can be stolen in numerous ways. Thieves can steal your credit card numbers when you shop online. They can also steal your identity through hacks, viruses, and malware. They can even manipulate you into giving up your personal data without you even knowing that you’re doing it.
Identity theft is like cancer. If you catch it early enough then you can mitigate most of the damage, but if you ignore the warning signs until it’s too late then your life just might be ruined. Don’t let it happen to you. Keep your eyes open for these warning signs to best protect your money.
Warning Sign #1: Unexplained Charges
If you ever have unexplained charges on your credit card or debit card, that should be an immediate red flag. Does it definitely mean that your identity has been stolen? No. It’s possible, for example, that someone incorrectly entered in their own credit card number somewhere and the resulting number happened to be yours.
But for the most part, an unexplained charge points to fraudulent activity. Even if the charge is only for a few dollars, you should always follow up with a strange purchase and figure out where it came from. Some identity thieves will “test” a credit card with a few innocuous buys before going on a spree. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Call customer service for your account and they should be able to help you determine whether there’s suspicious activity going on or if it was just a mistake.
Warning Sign #2: Missing Billing Statements
If you’re like me, you dread seeing your monthly statements that outline everything you purchased and how much money you owe. You might be pleasantly surprised that one day those statements stop arriving in your mailbox – but this should be a cause of concern if you didn’t do anything to stop receiving them.
Identity thieves often redirect billing statements away from their victims to reduce the chance that the victim will spot unexplained charges. If your monthly statements stop coming out of the blue, you should contact customer service and find out why. Sometimes the reasons are innocent but it’s always good to make sure.
Warning Sign #3: Declined Credit Cards
Whether you’re out to dinner or simply shopping at the mall, if your credit card is declined, you should be concerned. The most common reason for a declined credit card is, of course, exceeding your limit — but if you haven’t made any big purchases recently and you can’t explain the declined card, you should investigate.
If you reach the point of a declined card, the identity thief has probably spent your money already. However, most credit cards are protected against fraud and you can usually settle the issue with your credit card company with a simple phone call as long as you catch it early enough.
Debit cards are a bit trickier but you may have some luck depending on the company you hold your account with.
Warning Sign #4: Damaged Credit Score
How often do you check your credit score? I have to admit that I rarely, if ever, check mine. If you’re in the same boat as me, then we should both start checking our scores on a regular basis. Not only is it good for keeping our finances accountable, but spotting an unexpected dip in credit could indicate that your identity was stolen.
It works like this: someone steals your identity, spends a bunch of money under your name, that money is never repaid, your name accumulates debt, and finally your credit is crushed. Your best bet here is to dispute your records with the credit bureau and discuss any alert features to prevent future credit being unknowingly taken out under your name.
Warning Sign #5: Strange Package Deliveries
If you step out onto your doorstep and see a delivered package that you never ordered, you would be right to be confused. Perhaps it’s a gift. Maybe you did order it but forgot that you did thanks to a few beers. Or maybe someone stole your identity and ordered items on Amazon but forgot to change your shipping information.
This one is pretty easy to deal with. Most retailers will understand and allow you to return the item. After that, you’ll want to dispute the charges, change all of your passwords, and replace all of your credit and debit cards in case any others are compromised.
Warning Sign #6: Social Media Takeover
If your social media accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.) are making weird posts that you never actually posted yourself, it could be a sign that your identity has been compromised. The very first thing you should do is change all of your passwords and run antivirus scanners to catch and eliminate any potential threats.
Here’s the thing: if your social media accounts are compromised, there’s a good chance that your login credentials were stolen using a keylogger. If you have a keylogger on your system and you log into your online banking account or enter your credit card while shopping online, the keylogger can transmit that data back to whoever put the keylogger on your system.
Once you’ve changed all of your passwords and verified that your system is clean, keep an eye on your financial records to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary.
Image Credit: Woman and Bills Via Shutterstock, Billing Statement Via Shutterstock, Credit Cards Via Shutterstock, Credit Score Via Shutterstock, Package Delivery Via Shutterstock, Facebook Via PromesaArtStudio / Shutterstock