If you think your identity is only at risk of falling into the hands of foreign hackers, think again. Identity theft is not only a very serious and growing problem, it’s happening a lot closer to home than you may think.
Many thieves target someone they know, preying on personal relationships with friends or family to commit Social Security fraud, medical identity theft, tax fraud, or financial identity theft.
For example, there was a story in the news not too long ago about a woman who fraudulently opened six credit cards in her son’s name and racked up $50,000 in debt without his knowledge.
To avoid having anything like that happen to you, this article will educate you on the most common 15 identity theft warning signs and statistics you can’t ignore.
The Latest Identity Theft Statistics
Here are some of the most noteworthy statistics on identity theft today sourced from the Identity Theft Resource Center and Experian.
- Identity theft breaches are up 44% overall with 1,579 reports last year. There are likely even more that went unreported.
- Exposed records due to data breaches are up a whopping 389%!!! Roughly 179 million records were stolen.
- 14.2 million credit card numbers were exposed in 2017, an 88% increase.
- 158 million Social Security numbers were exposed last year, an increase of more than 8X.
- Identity theft ranked as roughly 14% of all consumer complaints to the FTC last year.
- The most common form of identity theft is credit card fraud, followed by employment or tax-related fraud, phone or utilities fraud, bank fraud, loan or lease fraud, and government documents or benefits fraud.
- Roughly 7% of U.S. adults were victims of identity fraud last year, 1 million higher than the previous year.
- Consumers reported $905 million in total fraud losses last year, a 21% increase.
- Nearly 70% of reported fraud complaints were initiated by phone.
- 25% of children fall victim to identity theft before the age of 18
- 35% of fraud complaints and 18.9% of ID theft complaints reported to the FTC were by senior citizens
- Michigan has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints followed by Florida, California, Maryland and Nevada.
- Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported overall fraud and other types of complaints, followed by Georgia, Nevada, Delaware and Michigan.
Even with these shocking identity theft statistics, most Americans are not taking any precautions to prevent being victimized. This is likely due to a lack of knowledge, falsely assuming that having poor credit makes one immune, procrastination, not making identity protection a priority, and thinking “it won’t happen to me.”
The good news is that just by reading this article you are reducing your risk of becoming a victim by educating yourself on the most common identity theft warning signs and statistics.
15 Identity Theft Warning Signs You Can’t Ignore
Here are some key warning signs your identity could have been breached. Don’t let any of these red flags go unchecked!
1. Fraudulent charges on your credit card, even really small ones
Thieves can make small “test” charges on cards to check if a card is active before making larger transactions. If you ever see a charge you don’t recognize, even if it’s less than $5, call your credit card company immediately.
2. Invoices you don’t recognize
If you get a strange invoice of any kind, be on alert and contact the service provider. Doctors and hospitals are taking more precautions to prevent insurance fraud, but there are still holes in the health system and many others that thieves and criminals can exploit.
3. Unauthorized bank withdrawals, miscellaneous charges and wires
Keep a close eye on all of your financial accounts. Anytime something shows up that you don’t recognize, even if it appears to be a bank charge, investigate immediately.
4. Your loan or credit applications are rejected
If your credit history is good and you are rejected for credit, something could be amiss. Same goes if you are approved but are given really bad rates. Thoroughly check your credit report and talk to the underwriting team. You can check your Experian credit report for free here and check your current credit score for only $1.
5. You no longer receive regular bills or invoices
If your identity is stolen, thieves may have contacted your vendors and changed your billing address. If you’re suddenly not getting your regular bills, contact your service providers right away.
6. Your tax return is rejected when you go to file
Imagine going through all the pains of filing your taxes only to get a rejection notice from the IRS or state. That’s an immediate red flag someone may have fraudulently filed in your name. Don’t shrug this off.
7. A tax transcript or refund comes in the mail you didn’t request
Identity thieves may try to request your tax documents from the IRS or file a fraudulent return that issues a refund they plan to steal from your mailbox. If you ever receive anything like this that you didn’t request, contact the IRS immediately.
8. Your former employer contacts you about a data breach
Be cautious about who has access to your social media accounts. If an identity thief notices you recently quit a job or started a new one (ex. from LinkedIn), they could try to file for unemployment benefits in your name if they gain access to your Social Security number and have the name of your former employer.
The state unemployment office notices employers whenever a claim for benefits is filed, so hopefully the HR departments notice if things don’t add up and contacts you for clarification.
9. You receive two-factor authentication and other security alerts
If you receive text messages or emails regarding PINs, new account registrations, password changes, address changes, mail changes, etc from new or existing service providers out of the blue, be wary.
Someone could be opening new accounts using your information or may have gained access to your existing accounts and is trying to lock you out. Contact the service providers right away.
10. Merchants start refusing your checks.
Checks aren’t as popular as they once were thanks to the convenience of credit cards, but they’re still a widely accepted form of payment. If you pay certain merchants by check and they suddenly start refusing them, something could be amiss.
11. A debt collector calls about past due debts you don’t recognize
With the vast number of robo calls from spammers and phishing scams, it’s easy to brush off unrecognized callers. If a collection agency ever calls, however, take down their information and hang up.
Research to see if the collection agency is legitimate and call them back on their publicly listed number. Review your free Experian credit report and get to the bottom of the issue asap.
12. Rejected health insurance applications or claims
Health insurance can be a nightmare to deal with even when your identity hasn’t been tampered with. But if you apply for health insurance or file claims with your existing provider and are unexpectedly denied coverage, it’s possible your identity was stolen.
Thieves may have filed medical claims using your insurance information and maxed out your benefits or had their own medical conditions logged in your medical records.
13. There are unrecognized earnings on your Social Security statements
Identity thieves that gain access to your Social Security number could use your identity to start a new job or try to collect Social Security benefits. Check your Social Security statements regularly and make sure the income reported matches what you know.
14. Your credit score suddenly rises or falls
Believe it or not, both increases and decreases in your credit score can be identity theft warning signs. If you see a sudden drop, someone may have opened new accounts in your name and run up large balances. It’s also possible for credit scores to rise when an identity thief opens up lines of credit using your name. Check your credit report closely and monitor your credit score.
15. A job opportunity suddenly falls through
It’s quite common for employers to run credit checks on prospective employees before making final hiring decisions. If you are in the final rounds for a job and are unexpectedly turned down due to a credit check, your identity could be compromised. Talk to the employer for clarification and fight to get that job if your account was indeed compromised.
What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
If your identity is ever stolen, don’t panic. It will take time and effort on your part to get things corrected, but it is important and well worth it to get things properly sorted out. Tackle the below steps one and a time and you’ll be able to get your identity back.
- Contact the FTC and submit an identity theft report, 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
- File a fraud alert and lock your credit report
- Notify all of your financial institutions and creditors
- Alert state and Federal agencies such as the DMV, IRS, Social Security Administration, and Passport Services Dept
- Change all of your passwords
- Consider signing up for an identity theft monitoring service such as Experian’s IdentityWorks
About the Author: Sam began investing his own money ever since he opened an online brokerage account in 1995. Sam loved investing so much that he decided to make a career out of investing by spending the next 13 years after college working at two of the leading financial service firms in the world. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate.
FinancialSamurai.com was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites today with over 1.5 million organic pageviews a month. Financial Samurai has been featured in top publications such as the LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.