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Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, as stated by the country’s relevant authorities. In 2022, the ITRC reported 422 million individuals were affected by identity-related crimes, while the FTC received 1.1 million reports of identity fraud.
You might be wondering, then: “How do I check if someone is using my identity?”
There’s more than one way to determine if you’ve been the target of identity fraud, from monitoring your bills and finances to contacting the major credit bureaus.
We thoroughly review all warning signs below!
How Do I Check if Someone Is Using My Identity?
If you believe someone has stolen your identity and has been using it for cybercriminal activities, you should take immediate action. The first thing to do is confirm whether such fraud occurred by taking all of the steps below.
1. Review your credit report
The best way to check if you’ve been the target of cybercriminals is to review and closely monitor your credit report. Toward that goal, you should immediately contact the country’s major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Look for anomalies within your credit files, such as newly-opened lines of credit, inaccurate data on file, credit score changes, and other unknown accounts.
2. Check your bank statements
Check your financial statements every month for unexplained charges, withdrawals, or other such transactions. If you find any, and your friends and family confirm they have not been using your cards, you must have been the victim of identity theft.
3. Track your bills
Keeping track of your bills is not just about staying on top of payments but being aware of every expense you have to cover regularly, including your rent, utilities, online subscriptions, TV, phone, and internet payments, etc.
If you start receiving new or higher bills or stop getting bill notifications, you should check with the corresponding supplier whether they have made any changes to their policies. If they haven’t, chances are good someone is misusing your identity.
4. Use an identity monitoring service
Many premium antivirus providers also develop and offer identity monitoring products. For instance, Bitdefender’s Digital Identity Protection service scans the entire web (public and dark web) for leaks of your personal information. You can track your online information via their real-time dashboard and take action before a breach occurs.
5. Confirm your tax records are correct
You can also contact the IRS to see if other tax returns are filed in your name by someone else and whether or not there’s a record of income from an unknown source.
6. Check your criminal record
Stolen personal information is commonly used to commit crimes, so chances are good your name has been reported in connection with illegal activity. Therefore, check with your local police department about obtaining a criminal record search.
7. Review your loan or benefits eligibility
Victims often find out they’ve been the target of identity theft after being denied a loan or various benefits. Some perpetrators apply for high-risk credit in the victim’s name, which ruins their credit score, or try to get medical care and unemployment benefits.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Identity thieves typically gain access to your sensitive data via several methods:
- Hacking devices—criminals may infect your devices with spyware or ransomware designed to gain access to your data;
- Phishing scams—attackers will contact you via mail, email, phone, and websites and pose as legitimate entities to trick you into revealing your data;
- Social media snooping—thieves may scour your social media for information that helps them crack your passwords and gain access to your accounts;
- Data breaches—hackers also target and breach large data companies that store and use consumers’ information for all kinds of purposes;
- Simple item theft—an identity thief can access your data by stealing your wallet, phone, or other devices, and in most cases, that turns out to be a family member;
- Dumpster diving—perpetrators also acquire personal information by looking for bills or other important documents in your garbage.
Now that you know all points of entry, you can protect yourself by practicing good cyber hygiene, shredding essential documents, and wiping the date from old devices.
How to Prevent Identity Theft?
To avoid the financial, reputational, and emotional damage caused by identity theft, work towards preventing it from occurring by regularly applying these measures:
- Safely store all your sensitive documents at home or work;
- Carry critical documents on your person only when necessary;
- Never share your personal, financial, or health data over unsecured networks;
- Only transmit your data to a trustworthy party if and when you initiate contact;
- Regularly review your credit report, payments, bills, and tax returns;
- Opt out of prescreened credit offers to avoid identity theft via stolen mail;
- Use a secure mailbox for all your correspondences;
- Shred sensitive documents once you are done with them;
- Wipe hard disks and old devices before disposing of them;
- Use strong and unique passwords for each online account;
- Install premium anti-malware software with web protection features.
While there’s no guarantee you can avoid becoming an identity theft victim, you’ll go a long way in safeguarding your data if you diligently adopt all these precautions.
For all its amenities, the digitalization of our everyday lives also puts us at risk of online attacks by individuals seeking to take advantage of our data. For example, statistics show an ever-increasing frequency of identity theft fraud year after year.
So, how do we protect ourselves? By remaining vigilant whenever we go online, keeping our data safe and secure at all times, and conducting regular credit report checks, we’ll avoid the frightening consequences that arise in identity theft cases.