Despite the seemingly never-ending announcements of large-scale data beaches, you cross your fingers and hope your identity is never stolen. Sadly though, identity theft isn't something you can simply wish away. You and I live in an era where identity theft crimes are only becoming more prevalent and there’s really nothing to suggest they’re going to slow down any time soon.
Identity thieves sometimes file for a change of address at the post office to divert your mail to a different location of their choosing.
It's impossible to lock down all of your personal information. Just think about how many businesses have your information in their file systems, including banks, credit card issuers, schools, credit reporting agencies, etc. The list is endless and that’s the bad news. The good news is that there are events that can alert you to the possibility that your identity has been stolen.
Too Many Empty Mailboxes
If your mail suddenly stops showing up in your mailbox, it could be the sign of a potential problem. Identity thieves sometimes file for a change of address at the post office to divert your mail to a different location of their choosing. Once they begin to receive your mail, they can use the information contained in your bills and statements to open fraudulent accounts in your name, tap into your existing credit card accounts or engage in phishing campaigns.
Expert Tip: Reach out to creditors if a month passes and you haven't received your statements. You might also consider paperless statements to reduce the amount of personal information that finds its way into your physical mailbox. And, if you “opt out” of receiving pre-approved offers, those will no longer be mailed to you and, thus, can’t end up in the wrong hands.
You’re Getting Calls and Letters from Creditors You Don't Recognize
Another potential sign that your personal information may have been compromised is the arrival of bills or statements for accounts you know you didn't open. Unfamiliar calls from unknown creditors fall into this same suspicious category. This means someone has been successful in opening accounts in your name.
Expert Tip: You shouldn't ignore bills or collection calls just because you don't recognize an account or company. Instead, call the creditor and report the fraud right away to try to protect yourself from further problems. You’ll also want to check all of your credit reports because there’s a very good chance that the accounts are being reported in your name.
You’re Denied Credit
Were you surprised by a denial of a credit application … that you never submitted? If you receive a denial letter in the mail, which is formally referred to as a Notice of Adverse Action, someone applied for and was, thankfully, denied credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires lenders to send Adverse Action letters when a credit report is used as a basis for a denial of credit.
Expert Tip: Check your credit reports, now! Other applications may have been submitted in your name and are working their way through the underwriting process. Think about placing fraud alerts on your credit reports and if you really want to stop the fraud, add a security freeze to all of your reports. By September 24, 2018, security freezes will be free regardless of where you live.
You See Unfamiliar Credit Inquiries and Addresses
Credit reporting agencies are required to place a record on your credit reports each time they share your credit information with a third party. This is called an “inquiry.” If you check your credit and discover inquiries listed that were not authorized, someone could be applying for new credit in your name without your knowledge. Further, if the fraudster applied for credit in your name but used a different address, it’s possible that the fraudulent address will be added to your credit report.
Expert Tip: If unauthorized inquiries or addresses show up on your credit reports, add a fraud alert or place a security freeze on all of your reports.
Your Credit Scores Tank
If you’ve got great credit reports, you have great credit scores. If you’re monitoring your scores, which you should be, and all of a sudden they drop considerably, there’s a chance that a derogatory account has been added to your credit reports, like those opened by fraudsters. The account will go unpaid for several months, which will lead to the negative credit reporting and lower scores.
Expert Tip: It is important to review your credit reports carefully, especially if you become aware of a sudden decline in your scores. If you discover potential signs of identity theft on your reports, be sure to notify the credit reporting agencies immediately.