Sometimes, safeguarding your driver’s license, credit cards, social security cards, or other identifying data isn’t enough. Constant media reports about new scams and data breaches show identity thieves relentlessly look for new fraud victims. Stop these criminals fast to keep them from ruining your life by spotting the early warning signs of identity theft.
You have four identities you must routinely monitor for fraud signals: financial, medical, government, and criminal. With kids, there’s a fifth: child identity theft. Look for these four signs that can alert you that your identity was compromised in three of the most critical areas.
1. Information on Your Credit Reports that’s Not Yours
Routine credit report checks should reveal data you don’t recognize as a thief’s attempt to compromise your identity. Promptly dispute false names, addresses, accounts, and transactions on your credit report, and persist until they’re gone. Have a fraud alert put on your credit reports, and consider placing a freeze on them altogether.
2. Bills for Purchases You Didn’t Make, or No Bills at All
Sometimes this is a mistake, but often, it’s a sign your financial identity could be breached. Resist the urge to disregard a statement or delay action thinking the vendor will recognize their error. Don’t ignore the failure to get bills or other mail on time believing the post office will fix the mistake. Act immediately to remedy these issues, or you could end up spending much more time restoring your ruined credit.
For unknown bills, contact the vendor right away. Explain the situation, dispute the bill, and close accounts opened in your name, especially if they’re credit accounts. Make sure these new accounts haven’t gotten added to your credit reports, and dispute them if they have.
For missing mail, make a trip to your local post office, find out what’s happened, and file a complaint if your mail got redirected.
3. Notices to Appear in Court for Crimes You Didn’t Commit
One of the fastest growing legal offenses is criminal identity theft. Thieves break the law and provide your personal information to identify themselves, leaving you with a criminal record.
Don’t try handling this alone. Instead, call state authorities or a nonprofit like the Identity Theft Resource Center to get help. Also, consider running a background check or reviewing your driver’s record for arrest warrants each year. You can even order your free yearly car insurance use history and look for traffic tickets or accidents you didn’t cause.
4. Errors in Your or Your Child’s Medical Records
Thieves commit medical identity theft the same way they do criminal identity fraud. They use your or your child’s data to get medical treatment, often for health issues neither of you have. The danger is you or your child could get denied care you desperately need if thieves max out your benefits. Or, one of you could get harmed by treatments for conditions you don’t have. Medical identity theft also could result in collections and medical bankruptcy, if you don't spot early warning signs.
When you get medical bills, before you set them aside, scrutinize them. Immediately dispute statements or charges that aren’t yours or treatments you don’t recognize or didn’t authorize for your kids. Be persistent, because medical providers might not believe you initially. Also, request your and your child’s medical records annually and examine every line for errors.
The Bottom Line
A little extra diligence with your financial, medical, legal, and government records and information can save you a huge amount of headache and expense down the road. Always be on the lookout for the four signs listed above to keep yourself and your family safe from identity theft.