Recognizing When You are a Victim of Identity Theft by Brandon Bowers

Posted on April 11, 2024 by Brandon Bowers

The headaches individuals must confront when they are victims of identity theft are complicated by the length of time those crimes go unrecognized. Too often, these scams play out over months and even years without detection. By that point, however, your personally identifiable information (PII) can be in the hands of criminals and the dark web, posing significant and lasting damage to your finances, credit history, career and reputation. The good news is that you can learn to recognize the warning signs of identity theft and seek help to prevent it from wreaking havoc on your life.

Criminals can steal your identity and use that information to their advantage in multiple ways. They may commit financial crimes, such as charging purchases to your credit cards, withdrawing money from your accounts, taking out loans in your name, intercepting tax refunds, filing bogus tax returns in your name and even transferring ownership of your home to themselves and selling it without your knowledge. They can also gain control of your computer, email and social media accounts, giving them the ability to spam your contact lists with malware and share nefarious information about you online. Moreover, research suggests that once your identity is stolen, you are at increased risk of falling victim to identity theft again in the future.

While there are several steps you can take to protect your identity from theft, you may not be able to prevent your PII from criminals’ hands when there is a data breach at any of the many organizations that store your data, including financial institutions, credit agencies, social media apps, hotels, retail stores, etc. Therefore, the key to containing the potential fallout from identity theft lies in recognizing when something is amiss and taking immediate action to minimize any lasting impact on your life. The following are some of the most common indications that you may be a victim of identity theft.

You receive bills for charges you did not make or services you did not receive.

Be alert to medical and utility bills for services you neither signed up for nor received, which can indicate that someone else is using your identity to obtain those services for free. It is equally essential you regularly review your existing credit card, bank and brokerage account statements to identify irregularities, such as charges or withdrawals you did not authorize. If you notice an anomaly, immediately contact the financial institution that holds your account. You may also consider changing the passwords to your financial accounts, and, when possible, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) as an added layer of protection.

You receive calls from debt collectors for accounts you did not open.

Criminals may use your personal information to open lines of credit, establish credit cards and even receive medical care in your name. Unless you check your credit report regularly, you may not become aware of these activities until the accounts go to collections. One way to prevent this from happening is to initiate a credit freeze with all the credit reporting agencies. This can be done online with each of the credit bureaus, with whom you should create your own online accounts before someone else does.

Your applications for loans and credit cards are denied.

Financial frauds, such as identity theft, can reduce one’s credit score, making it difficult to secure loans and lines of credit. Again, the best way to prevent this is to freeze your credit and review your credit reports regularly.

Your credit report contains inaccurate information.

Your credit report will show a complete list of all the accounts opened in your name. If you see one you did not authorize, it could indicate theft. Immediately contact the credit agencies to submit a dispute online or by U.S. mail and consider a credit freeze to prevent this from happening in the future.

You stop receiving expected mail, or you receive mail at your address with a different person’s name.

Criminals may steal mail directly from your mailbox and set up accounts under your name using their addresses to prevent you from seeing their fraudulent activities. They may also use your personally identifiable information to apply for credit and send the bills to your address. Be cautious when putting outgoing mail in your mailbox, especially when it includes checks or credit card information that criminals may use to commit fraud. To minimize these risks, you may also consider signing up for electronic bills and electronic payments with all service providers, such as credit card companies, brokerage firms, internet service and other utility providers.

You are notified that a data breach compromised your information.

Cyber security experts warn that it is best to assume that your personal information was leaked at some point by one of the many data breaches reported in the news each day. To stay on top of these frequent attacks and help to keep your identity protected, keep a watchful eye on your credit report, looking out for irregularities that could indicate a potential theft. The sooner you recognize you may be a victim of a crime, the more control you have to stop it in its tracks and minimize its impact on your life.

About the Author: Brandon Bowers is director of Managed Cyber Security Solutions with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs, where he provides businesses, professional services firms and family offices with business continuity and recovery, cybersecurity and fully outsourced help desk services. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or