Identity thieves steal personal information such as credit and debit card numbers. Once the thieves latch on to this data, they use it to make purchases or simply sell it to other criminals on the black market. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that as of 2015, identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint for 15 straight years. This suggests businesses continue to struggle to protect customer information. Consumers might be equally bad at taking steps to promptly identify the crime, even though doing so can help protect your information and money.
Review Bank Account Withdrawals
A monthly review of your bank account statements gives you an opportunity to recognize identity theft fairly early, the FTC says. It is particularly important to monitor your withdrawal amounts as well as where those amounts went. If you identify an inappropriate entry on your bank statement, contact your financial institution as soon as possible.
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Analyze Credit Card Statements
Just as unusual entries on your bank statement can signal trouble, unidentifiable charges or purchases on your credit card statement may indicate an unauthorized person has access to your credit card number. It's important to review your credit card statement each month. If something appears to be incorrect or unusual, follow up with your credit card issuer as soon as possible.
Request and Examine Your Credit Report
To determine if you are a victim of identity theft, request a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax and Experian -- and review the reports carefully. You can access these companies via the Annual Credit Report website (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action). Once you receive the reports, carefully review your name, address and all other information in the reports. If you find inaccurate information, alert the credit bureau and ask that the information in question be removed.
Evaluate Your Mail
It's important to review any invoice that is sent to you or your address. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says this invoice may be an indication that an unauthorized person has opened a credit account in your name. Should this occur, follow up with the company that issued the invoice.
Confirm Expected Mail
One way an identify thief covers his tracks is to submit a change of address request to the financial institution with whom the victim does business. When the change in address takes effect, the victim's statements will be sent elsewhere, which prevents him from reviewing the statements and possibly identifying inappropriate charges. It is important to confirm the receipt of your statements so you can determine if inappropriate charges are on them.
Investigate Rejected Coverage
If an identity thief gets personal information from your health plan, he can seek treatment under your insurance. This can lead to unauthorized charges that exceed your benefits limits. As a result, your health plan will then reject your legitimate medical claim because claims records will show that you've reached your benefits limit, the FTC says. Should this occur, notify your insurer of the possibility of identity theft and work with it to resolve the issue.
- Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft Tops FTC’s Consumer Complaint Categories Again in 2014
- Federal Trade Commission: Signs of Identity Theft
- TransUnion: Identity Theft Facts
- TransUnion: A Story Where Credit Monitoring's the Hero
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: How Can I Spot Identity Theft
- NYC Department of Consumer Affairs: How to Tell If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft