9 signs of identity theft everyone should know

·3-min read

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Identity theft happens more often than people realize. (Photo: Getty)
Identity theft happens more often than people realize. (Photo: Getty)

Protecting your personal information is vital for keeping yourself and your financial information secure. Unfortunately, identity theft happens and more often than most people realize.

About 13 million people in the U.S. were the victim of identity theft in 2019, according to a 2020 identity fraud survey from research-based advisory company Javelin. Overall, identity theft cost people nearly $17 billion that year alone.

Identity theft is serious. Once scammers have your personal information, they can liquidate your bank account, make charges to your credit cards, open new utility accounts and get medical treatment on your health insurance, according to the Federal Trade Commission. They can even file a tax return in your name and get your refund money.

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Experts say it's important to know the signs of identity theft in case it happens to you. Here's what you need to know:

The top signs of identity theft

One of the biggest signs is that you'll start to see strange transactions pop up, computer security expert Graham Cluley, co-host of the Smashing Security podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "You might see unusual transactions on your bank accounts," Cluley says. "You might receive email confirmations on products you haven't purchased, credit cards you haven't applied for arriving in the mail and demands for debts that you don't recognize."

But there are other warning signs that should be on your radar, too, Joseph Steinberg, cybersecurity and emerging technologies advisor, tells Yahoo Life. Steinberg lists the following as red flags of identity theft:

  • You get notices of unpaid driving tickets that you never received.

  • You see unknown accounts on your credit report.

  • The IRS blocks you from filing federal taxes because it says you already filed for the year in question—when you didn't.

  • You get confirmation of changes of your physical or email address that you didn't request.

  • You receive either bills, medical insurance explanation of benefits statements, or dental insurance explanation of benefits statements for healthcare services that you didn't receive.

  • You're told that you maxed out a particular medical or dental insurance benefit when you know that you didn't.

  • Your cellphone unexpectedly loses service.

  • Law enforcement shows you a warrant for your arrest for a crime that you didn't commit.

It's important to know the signs of identity theft, such as getting confirmation of an email address change that you didn't request. (Photo: Getty)
It's important to know the signs of identity theft, such as getting confirmation of an email address change that you didn't request. (Photo: Getty)

What to do if you're the victim of identity theft

"Notify law enforcement," Steinberg says. Typically, that means contacting your local police department. But you'll also want to notify the Internal Revenue Service and report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Steinberg recommends putting a freeze on your credit report as well.

You'll also want to contact your bank about suspicious charges, Cluley suggests — they should be able to investigate.

Identity theft happens, but the good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself — and to prevent it from happening in the first place.

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