How do you know if someone is using your personal information?
According to TransUnion, most cases of identity theft can be resolved if they are caught early. But how do you know if someone is using your personal information? The following are just a few of the early warning signs you should be aware of:
- There are unexplainable withdrawals from your bank account(s)
- Bills (or other important mail) don't arrive
- You start receiving medical bills for services you didn't use
- You receive calls or letters from debt collectors about debts that are not yours
- New accounts or charges begin to show up on your credit report
- You get notice from the IRS saying that you have earned income from an employer you didn't work for
Too many identity theft victims don't even know that they're even victims until weeks or even months after the fact, often finding out only when being declined for a loan or when notified by a collection agency. For this reason, it's critical that you act fast, reporting any compromised accounts to help reduce further damage.
Unfortunately, even under the best of circumstances, the road to recovery after identity theft can be a long and winding one. Victims of identity theft can lose an average of $851 to $1,400 in working wages trying to resolve their identity theft case2, simply due to the time involved to repair the financial damage (which often includes time away from work to complete paperwork, make phone calls, and send emails). In addition, there are costs associated with legal fees.
Steps to protect yourself from identity theft
It's critical to be proactive when it comes to safeguarding your identity from thieves and that begins with the careful management of your personal information.
Here's how to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Create strong passwords and lock electronic devices such as computers and cell phones. Be sure to change your passwords frequently.
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly.
- Monitor your credit reports regularly and consider setting up a fraud alert.
- Properly shred personal documents — including junk mail with those “pre-approved” credit card offers. Consider a cross-cut paper shredder for extra security.
- Install and update the security software on your computer, tablet, and cell phones.
- Try to avoid public Wi-Fi connections — such as airports and coffee shops. If you must access public connections, consider purchasing a portable Wi-Fi device (available from many wireless providers) when working away from the office.
- Keep new checks and replacement debit cards out of your mailbox. Instead, have your bank hold them so you can pick them up at the branch yourself.
- Consider a P.O. Box. If you frequently have financial documents sent to you via the U.S. Postal Service, live in a high risk area, or just want that extra layer of protection that a locked box can provide, a P.O. Box can be worth the extra effort and small expense.
- Keep any personal and important documents in your home in a safe.
- Keep a list of account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers in a safe place so in the event that your purse or wallet is stolen, you can quickly go down the list to alert your creditors.
- Be phone savvy and don't give out personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call.
- Leave the important stuff at home. Keep your Social Security card and passport at home in a safe. And if you aren't planning on using them, don't be toting around those extra credit cards.
- If you receive a data breach notification from a business, place a fraud alert on your credit report so that your lenders take extra precautions to monitor your credit. And be sure to take advantage of any free credit monitoring that may be offered to you as a consumer by the business.
We hope this article helps you to learn more about the importance of protecting your personal information in order to stave off fraudsters. For more information on how to protect yourself, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov.