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Identity Theft: How to Spot It, How to Stop It

Identity Theft: How to Spot It, How to Stop It

According to Javelin’s 2018 Identity Fraud Report, the number of US identity fraud victims increased by 8% in 2017 to a frankly ridiculous 16.7 million! Right? Worse news, US consumers experienced losses totaling $16.8 billion (with a B!) due to identity fraud! And worst of all, identity theft cases are only expected to rise. Well, now we’re really depressed…

While where there is light, there is always a shadow, it’s not all doom and gloom. So, let’s take a look at what to watch for and what to do if you ever (unfortunately) fall victim to the fastest growing crime in the world: Identity Theft.

For starters: what exactly is identity theft? It’s when someone wrongfully obtains and uses another’s personal data, such as a social security number or bank account numbers, to commit fraud for economic gain. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that the most common types of identity theft include employment or tax-related fraud, credit card fraud, bank fraud, and phone or utilities fraud. Our friends at Javelin’s Identity Fraud Report stated that fraud-related account takeover tripled in 2017, reaching a 4-year high with online shopping presenting the greatest fraud risk. We really can’t have nice things, it would seem…

But all kidding aside, identity theft is a serious issue that can have a significant and long-lasting impact on your finances, as well as your life. It’s important, scratch that, it’s vital to learn the warning signs that someone may just have stolen your personal information so you can act quickly to prevent further losses.

13 Signs of Possible Identity Theft:

  1. Unexplained withdrawals from your checking/ savings account. If you’re missing money AND there’s no reason behind it, that’s a huge red flag. Check your statements!
  2. Charges on your credit card that you didn’t make. Charged for a fridge you didn’t buy? Easy; alert your credit card provider. However, the ones everyone overlooks are the small ones. These are known as ‘test charges.’ Usually, under a dollar or two, they’re designed to make sure the stolen card is still active and go unnoticed so then you, unexpectedly get a massive charge you never saw coming. Check your statements!
  3. Missing mail, such as credit card statements, utility bills, etc. Anything that is delivered to your home that might have any bit of personal information; even as seemingly insignificant as your address is fair game to an ID thief. So, be vigilant and make sure ALL of your mail is making it to you, untouched.
  4. Unexplained changes in your credit score. This is a big, big one! If you had a 740 last month AND didn’t fall behind on payments, take out a big loan or anything of that nature, but now you have a 615 with 9 new hard inquiries…girl, file yourself a report because someone is enjoying their best life on your dime!
  5. Unfamiliar loans or accounts on your credit report. Related to the last one; simply put, if you didn’t think you had a credit card with Discover but now you do or you know you don’t have a student loan, since you didn’t go to college, talk to the credit bureaus today!
  6. Your credit report shows inquiries from businesses you don’t recognize. Not looking at buying a home, yet have 4 hard inquiries from various mortgage lenders? Follow the advice in the above two steps!
  7. Unexpectedly denied for a credit card or a loan. This is, admittedly a tricky one because you can be denied for any of reasons; the key; however, is why you were denied! If you have a 740, everything is in good standing and you have a strong income stream, a small personal loan shouldn’t be a problem; however, there be many other factors. If you feel you (honestly) should’ve been a lock for that loan, get the credit report and the denial letter and go through them, so you can at least rule out whether or not a crook has indeed gotten a hold of your info. #bettersafethansorry
  8. Receiving bills for purchases you didn’t make. Everyone loves unexpected gifts, but not this kind. If you start getting bills with your name, address, and account/card info, it’s time to make a few calls and stop it before it gets any worse!
  9. Calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours. Debt collectors are far from anyone’s idea of a fun conversation; but when you’re being hounded with someone else’s debt, that sucks even worse! If it’s not yours, don’t pay it and keep reading on what to do.
  10. Unexplained medical charges. Nuff said.
  11. Notification that you’ve reached your medical benefits limit when you know you haven’t. This is a lot like #7, because, let’s face it, do you truly keep track of ALL your medical expenses throughout the year? You do. Great! But for the rest of us mere mortals, we really don’t. If you can verify you should indeed have some room left on your medical benefits limit or the charges eating away at it are sketchy, you’ve likely fallen prey to ID theft.
  12. You’re unable to file a tax return, because the IRS tells you someone already filed a return using your social security number. This may seem like an outlier, but the crazy and honestly, scary truth is, this is actually really, really common! If you get this message back from the gov’t, DO NOT WAIT on it for another second!
  13. Your social security statements show earnings that aren’t yours. You know what you make, if it’s more or less, make the call and get it sorted!

Are you still with us? Are you panicked?! Don’t be, because while yes, identity theft is common and scary; there are ways to fight it and ways to help fix it if you’re ever a victim of it.

What to Do if You’re the Victim of Identity Theft:

  • Contact the companies where the fraud occurred and explain that someone stole your identity and therefore, you are not responsible for those charges. If you can, have them close or freeze said accounts to stop any more fraud from occurring. If you’re keeping the accounts open for any reason, then immediately (and we mean, like as you’re on the phone with the company) change ALL logins, passwords, and PINs for ALL of the accounts, so the thieves can’t easily break right back in and help themselves again and again!
  • Place a fraud alert by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. The one you notify will have to alert the other two, so you only have to call one; not all three. However, if it’ll make you sleep easier, feel free to do just that! Good news is a fraud alert is free to place, so it won’t add any unnecessary debt to your situation. Furthermore, you will receive a letter from each credit bureau confirming they placed a fraud alert on your file for your personal records. You can contact the three credit bureaus at the information below:
    • com/fraudalert or call 1-888-397-3742
    • com/fraud or call 1-800-680-7289
    • com/CreditReportAssistance or call 1-888-766-0008
  • Request your free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. To do so, simply visit or call 1-877-322-8228. If you’ve already received your free credit report (usually once a year), you can select to pay to get a report immediately or follow the instructions on the fraud alert confirmation letter you receive from each bureau to get another free report. Keep in mind that if you wait for the letter, it will take you longer to get the report; however, so judging on the severity of the fraud, it may not always be best to wait, but the choice lies with you. Once you receive your report, check for any discrepancies and accounts you don’t recognize and make sure to report any and all that are not on the level!
  • Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. You will want to have as many details as possible when contacting the FTC since it is very possible the criminal who got you, got others as well. If you report identity theft online, you will receive an Identity Theft Report and recovery plan. You can then create an account on the website to update your plan, as well as track your progress. You will also receive prefilled form letters to send to the creditors. Bear in mind that if you don’t create an account, you must print and save the report and recovery plan right away, because they will not be saved automatically! Creating this Identity Theft Report is important because it guarantees you certain rights and provides the necessary info to businesses that someone stole your identity. It also makes it a bit easier to correct problems caused by identity theft then now and in the future, should this, unfortunately, happen again.
  • File a police report. If you’ve done everything we listed, you might feel you have done everything you need to. However, filing a report with the police will only help you in your quest to fix this serious issue. When you go to do so, have a copy of your Identity Theft Report available as they will likely need it. That being said, there is a chance, that depending on the type of identity theft, they may or may not be able to help, but as the old adage goes, it never hurts to ask. The boys in blue are there to protect and serve, so if they can, use them!
  • Lastly, try and remain calm. Yes, this is serious and yeah, it sucks…big time! But you must remain level-headed, so you don’t make a bad situation worse. If you need help, ask a spouse, boyfriend/ girlfriend, etc. for assistance. If you feel more comfortable taking it outside the family, your local bank or credit union can usually offer help as well. Just remember, you are not alone in this and it will get better!

Once you’ve done all of the above and have your Identity Theft Report, the recovery plan you receive from the FTC will detail the next steps to take to help repair the damage done by identity theft and get you back to normalcy. Thirteen doesn’t have to be an unlucky number when you use the above list to be on the lookout for possible identity theft warning signs. At the very least, it may just help you discover something less sinister, such as an unused credit card you’ve cut up years ago and forgotten about or just make you wiser to how it all works. If you can help identify it early and act quickly, you should be able to minimize damages significantly.

At Choice One Community Credit Union, your financial wellbeing is our top priority. So, in the event you do fall victim to identity theft or have any other issue you’d like help in resolving, we are always right here for you! Stop in and see us at any of three conveniently-located branches today!

For more topnotch tips, be sure to check out our Choice Words blog each Wednesday for more valuable information. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for even more!