Some identity theft is more obvious to spot than others. You may, for example, find that your tax return gets rejected when you e-file it, which can often point to fraudsters filing on your behalf. As a consequence they may well have made off with your tax refund. Not ideal by any means. However, at least it does inform you that fraud is taking place.
Other examples of identity theft aren't always as straightforward and many can often go on for a while without you even realising it. While criminals will need to steal your Social Security number in order to attempt a fraudulent tax return scam, there are other things they can do with additional parts of your ID that will cause just as much chaos.
Credit cards, bank accounts, loans, online shopping sprees; all these and more besides can be a problem for you if you’re on the receiving end of identity theft. While identity theft is still a growing problem, doing your bit to try and prevent yourself from being a victim is prudent. Aside from signing up for an identity theft protection package, there are additional steps you can take to minimize the threat.
- Check out the best identity theft protection
- The best tax software around today
- Take a look at the best accounting software
One of the first places to start with keeping an eye out for visible signs of identity theft is your bank statements and other financial documentation. The digital age means that it’s now easy to dip in and check over transactions at your convenience. If you start to see unusual transactions on your account summary or, indeed, start getting checks bouncing on you then this could be a sign you’ve had your ID stolen.
The same goes for credit card statements, which should also be checked over regularly in order to ensure that everything contained on your paperwork is as it should be. Even if you spot small amounts that don't make sense then this could be an indicator that criminals have your details and could be testing the waters to see if they can get away with higher levels of fraud unnoticed.
Your Social Security number is one of the most valuable things criminals can go after. With this they can not only file fraudulent tax returns, and subsequently make a stake for your tax refund, but they will also be able to apply for credit cards in your name too. Keep your Social Security card under wraps and the number an even more closely guarded secret. Be sure to not give it out to anyone unless they can prove who they are and why they need to see it.
Lookout too for things going awry if you don't get items of post in the mail that you’d normally expect to receive. This could be down to criminals changing your mailing address if they've already got some details about your personal identity. The same goes for not leaving mail hanging around for days on end, because fraudsters can often use this to make inroads into stealing your identity.
Regular checks of your credit reports make a good idea, especially if you begin receiving phone calls from debt collectors. If someone contacts you about an unpaid bill that they say you have run up, and it makes no sense to you, then this could be another alarm bell moment. Fraudsters may have stolen your ID and racked up bills or debts without your knowledge. Contact the three major credit agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - doing this should be your next call.
Alarmingly, fraudsters can also use a stolen identity in order to accumulate medical bills. If they have managed to get hold of your details they may be making claims for medical services or treatments. This can also cause problems further down the line because they may get their fraudulent details mixed up with your genuine health records, which in turn might be an issue for you if you need treatment at a later date. Healthcare providers and health insurance companies should be notified immediately if you discover anything that is suspicious.
Fraudsters aren't just after bank account details and Social Security number either. In fact, there is an array of ways they can go after an individual’s personal identity, and the omnipresent cellphone is an easy target. We all know how easy it is to misplace or lose a cellphone, and if this happens to you be sure to close off any routes to your ID that may be on it. Fraudsters can not only use your phone account for criminal activities but our phones often have more than enough information contained on them to allow criminals to do even more damage to your personal identity.
Scarily, criminals who have stolen your personal identity details can also use your name and Social Security number if they're being questioned by the police. Using your details in this scenario might mean that an arrest warrant could be issued in your name. Criminal identity theft is thankfully not that common, but it can happen and, if it does, may require you to contact the relevant law enforcement agencies in order to prove that you're not the criminal they’re after.
While it’s impossible to eradicate all elements of risk when it comes to identity theft, just taking a few common sense steps to reduce the threat makes a lot of sense. Investing in an identity theft protection package like Norton LifeLock for example, is a step in the right direction. This lets you keep tabs on your credit reports while offering a comprehensive range of additional tools, all designed with reducing the threat of ID theft.
And, taking time out to pick through your bank statements and credit card paperwork could pay dividends, especially if you manage to spot any warning signs fairly early on. Repairing damage caused because of identity theft can be stressful and time-consuming, so prevention is definitely better than cure.
- Check out our roundup of the best identity theft protection
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Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.