A report from the US Justice Department shows that nearly 17 million people were the victims of identity theft last year. They estimate that the cost was nearly $24 billion in direct as well as indirect losses from the two most common types of theft, credit card theft, which equaled 40%, and bank account hacking at 37%.
Ironically, the majority of consumers don’t actually find out that they’ve been victimized until their financial institution contacts them about a problem. Fraud experts, on the other hand, say that consumers must start doing more to protect themselves rather than relying on their financial institutions and credit card companies to do it for them.
“The longer ID theft goes on, the more damage is done and the longer it takes the victim to recover from it,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Velasquez’ statement shows how important it is to always be vigilant and keep an eye out for any warning signs that your personal information has been stolen and is being used by a criminal.
“Surveys show nine out of 10 people don’t check their financial statements,” Siciliano said. “That’s irresponsible. You shouldn’t be waiting for a retailer to tell you there’s been a breach. You should be checking your financial statements more than you check your Facebook page, but people’s priorities are skewed.”
In order to help you avoid identity theft, below are a number of tell-tale signs that you’ve been victimized.
- Charges, some of them relatively small, start appearing on your credit or debit card statements. The fact is, many identity thieves will start using your credit little by little in order to “test” your stolen account.
- If statements for unknown credit card accounts start showing up at your door, an identity thief has more than likely gotten a hold of your Social Security number and opened up accounts in your name. Closing down those accounts as quickly as possible is imperative.
- The same thing has probably happened if a credit card or department store card shows up in your mail.
- If you start receiving collection notices or calls for debts that you don’t know, it can be due to the fact that an identity thief is using your personal information to make purchases and, of course, not paying for them.
- If errors or false information start showing up on your credit report it’s possible that an identity thief has stolen your ID. You have the right to a free report from the big three credit bureaus, Trans Union, Equifax and Experian, once a year or so make sure you take advantage of that.
- If you have “good” credit but you’re turned down for more, it’s possible that an identity thief has made a mess of your credit and your credit score has dropped.
- If you notice that you haven’t gotten a specific bill from a credit card company or financial institution, it’s possible that a thief is either stealing them or has changed your address so that the statements will come to their address and not yours
“If you take five minutes to follow up on something that’s out of the ordinary, weird or just doesn’t make sense, you could save yourself a lot of headaches later on,” Velasquez said.
If you surf to the Identity Theft Resource Center online you’ll find that they have a complete list of Identity Theft Red Flags that will help you to be more vigilant and deter these nasty criminals before they get a chance to ruin your credit.