How to recognize identity theft

Watch your bank account, credit cards, credit score


Bobby Hansen, Better Business Bureau Cedar Rapids

Identity theft is stressful, and it can do tremendous damage to your finances.

It’s important to recognize the signs early. The earlier you notice something is amiss, the faster you can take action to minimize the damage.

In honor of ID Theft Awareness Week commencing Jan. 30, the Better Business Bureau recommends the following tips to help you recognize the signs of identity theft.

  • You receive statements or bills for accounts you never opened. If you get a bill for an account you did not authorize, someone may be utilizing your personal information to open accounts. Contact the company to find out if there’s been a mistake and check your credit report for unusual activity.
  • You are surprised by being denied a loan or credit. You have great credit, then apply for a loan and are denied. Thieves can open accounts in your name, run up the bill, default on payments and ruin your credit. Check your credit report to make sure no unauthorized accounts have been opened.
  • Your regular bills stop showing up in the mail. If you haven’t signed up to go paperless and your bills stop showing up, it could be a sign that someone changed your billing address. Contact creditors and inquire if they sent the bill and if the address they have on file is correct.
  • You notice suspicious activity in your bank account. Unfamiliar charges, new accounts and withdrawals you didn’t make are all red flags. Review all bank accounts verifying that no one has access to your funds. Refrain from using your bank account for online purchases and closely guard all banking information.
  • You notice suspicious charges on your credit card. Scammers may make a small charge on your account first as a test, hoping you won’t notice. If you notice any strange charges on your credit card bill, report them immediately. Even a small inconsistency can be a sign of fraud.
  • You get authentication messages for accounts you didn’t set up. Scammers could be trying to set up a new account in your name. If you receive unexpected authentication messages, don’t reply or click on links. Go straight to the source. Review your bank accounts and statements, for unauthorized transactions.
  • The IRS rejects your tax return. If your tax return gets rejected, someone may have filed in your name and made off with your tax refund. Contact the IRS if you suspect your tax identity has been compromised and complete form 14039.
  • The IRS informs you a tax return has been filed on your behalf. Sometimes the IRS catches a fraudulent tax return before the fake filer succeeds. You may receive a letter from the IRS with instructions to verify your identity and prevent identity thieves from using your Social Security number for tax fraud.
  • Your credit score inexplicably improves or deteriorates. If your score changes suddenly, a fraudster may have maxed out a fraudulent credit card without paying the bill. If your credit inexplicably improves, an identity thief may be building up your credit so they can run through it later. You may obtain a free credit report once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • You are suddenly denied medical coverage. Scammers can steal your identity to use your health benefits, too. If you get medical bills you do not recognize, someone could be using your benefits. Contact your insurer for medical identity theft questions.
  • Debt collectors call about debts you are unaware of. If you receive calls from debt collectors about money owed for charges you never made, your personally identifying information may be compromised. Quickly investigate and take action.

Bobby Hansen is regional director for the Better Business Bureau Cedar Rapids office. Comments: (319) 365-1190; [email protected]