What you need to know about identity theft

You've seen the headlines and watched countless news clips. But do you know the signs of identity theft and how to protect yourself?

Tags: Asset protection, Scams
Published: October 25, 2018

Identity theft is a fact of life in our world today. But you can arm yourself with information to help protect yourself. Find out what to do about identity theft, how to know when you're a victim, and how to prevent it from happening to you.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a crime that happens when a family member, trusted friend, or complete stranger takes your personal information and uses it without your permission, usually for the purposes of financial benefit The stolen information can include data as simple as your name and your address, or it can involve more sensitive information like your Social Security number, your bank account number, or your insurance account numbers.

How does identity theft happen?

When a physical possession goes missing, you might notice right away. In contrast, people can steal your identity without you realizing anything is wrong. Some common ways for unsavory characters to steal your identity are through a data breach, by installing malware on your computer, by stealing your mail, or by taking your credit card information.

How to check for identity theft

A few common signs of identity theft may alert you to the fact that you've become a victim. If you see any of these warning signals, be aware that your personal information may have been compromised:

  • Your bills or bank statements don’t arrive in the mail, even though you typically receive paper statements.
  • You spot unauthorized charges on your credit card or deductions from your checking account.
  • You receive debt collection calls about charges you've never made.
  • You discover that the Internal Revenue Service has received a tax return in your name that you didn't file.

How to report identity theft

When you discover that you're a victim of ID theft, it’s important to report it right away.

Here’s a guide for some key steps you can take to report identity theft to the companies,  agencies and authorities who need to know what’s happened. 

How to prevent identity theft

Follow these steps to help protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Don't give out personal information like your bank account number or Social Security number online or over the phone.
  • Use secure passwords to log in to online banking and bill pay systems. Use passwords that would be hard for someone to guess, and that use a combination of numbers, letters and special characters.
  • Review every bank and credit card statement carefully, and report unauthorized charges immediately.
  • Go over your credit report annually, and confirm that every account on the report is yours.

Identity theft can be an expensive and difficult problem to resolve, especially if you don't know how to spot the signs. By working hard to recognize and prevent this type of fraud, you may minimize the impact of identity theft.

Looking for more tips on how to prevent identity theft, or what you should do if you think your identity has been stolen? Check out these pointers.