8 Signs Your Identity Has Been Compromised

identity theft
By Jeanine Skowronski

While frequent data breaches may have desensitized some consumers to identity theft, it's still important to pay attention to early warning signs your info is being used illegally, no matter how creative, silly or transparent a scam may seem.

"For the most part, identity thieves are sophisticated, dogged and damn smart. They take advantage of distraction and trust and look for the slightest crack or crevice to crawl into our lives," says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, an identity theft services company. "If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. The potential imaginary opportunity you miss could end up saving you time, stress and money." "[Some signs] can be sort of amusing, but they're all terrifying," says Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for anti-virus software company Norton, since compromised personal information can lead to big financial woes. Norton estimates in 2010 more than 74 million people in the U.S. were victims of some form of cybercrime, leading to $32 billion in direct financial losses.

To help you avoid adding to these losses, here are some early signs your identity has been compromised.

1. Your credit card gets declined for an unknown reason.
An expected decline can be one of the first signs an account has been hacked into, says Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of network security firm KnowBe4. This is why you shouldn't be blasé if a retailer says their system isn't taking your plastic.

Should a card get denied, go home and check your account immediately. If your funds are intact, you may want to call your issuer to see if they can help you get to the bottom of what may have caused the transaction to fail.

2. Mystery charges start appearing on your credit or debit card statements.

Strange charges on your credit or debit card account usually mean someone out there is up to no good, but you shouldn't only be on the lookout for big charges. Crooks who have purchased the number via illegal carder forums will often "test numbers with small purchases," Merritt says.

This is why you should call your issuer, no matter how big or how small the suspicious charge is. They can help you determine if the purchase is being made illegally or was simply a mistake. For instance, a clerk may have keyed in the wrong account numbers when processing a transaction over the phone or another shopper may have reversed some numbers on the card while shopping online. If the charges are tied to a bigger issue, your credit card company can also help you ensure the fraud remains an isolated incident.

"They'll walk you through the next steps," Sjouwerman says.

3. Merchandise you didn't order shows up at your house.

It's also a bad sign if merchandise you don't recognize gets delivered to your doorstep, since its sudden appearance could mean someone has gotten access to one of your online shopping accounts. While using the credit card on file, they may have forgotten to change its default shipping address, Merritt says, leading to the unexpected gifts.

If this does happen, call the retailer to arrange to have the merchandise returned. You should also change the password associated with the compromised account and call your credit card issuer to have the card replaced or flagged for future fraudulent activity.

4. A debt collector calls you for a debt you've never heard of.

If a debt collector starts calling to a collect on a debt you've never heard of, someone else may be putting your identity to use, Sjouwerman says. This is why, as tempting as it may be, you can't ignore the calls after initial contact. Instead, find out as much as you can about the purported debt in question so you can determine if it is, in fact, being attributed to you, then take these steps to have it eradicated.

More From Credit.com

5. Your monthly billing statements stop showing up.

Sudden and strange activity involving your financial accounts is definitely a red flag, but sudden inactivity can be just as worrisome. For instance, if your monthly billing statements are a miss, it could mean "someone has changed the billing address [on the account] so you don't find out it's been compromised," Sjouwerman says.

To make sure this sign doesn't go unnoticed, Merritt suggests writing out a schedule of when your major bills are set to arrive. If one doesn't make it to your mailbox or your email account, it may be a good idea to touch base with your bank, issuer or service provider.

6. Your friends receive emails from your address that you never sent.

Consumers shouldn't only be on alert for unusual activity in their financial accounts. Similarly suspicious activities within email or social media accounts are another early sign that a thief has gotten their hands on your personal information, Merritt says. For instance, one way fraudsters try to capitalize off of stolen digital identities is to send out phony emails asking friends and families to send money to an international address under the guise that the actual owner is stranded in a foreign country. Similar scams have been utilized via Facebook or Twitter.

If someone is sending out spam for one of your accounts, make sure to immediately change the password associated with all of your other ones. If you've been locked out of the account that was compromised, call your service provider to have that particular account discontinued.

7. Your credit score takes an unexpected dive.

You should also be concerned if you've checked all of your credit scores prior to applying for a loan only to have a lender come back and say it's not as high as you had believed it was, Sjouwerman says. For instance, if you were told your score was a 720 and a lender comes back and says it's actually a 580, an investigation is in order.

Consumers who encounter this problem should request another copy of the report in question and scan for any activity they are unfamiliar with. As previously reported, the inquiry section can be particularly telling since you may stumble across loan or credit card applications you never filled out. If you do discover fraudulent line items, call the credit bureau to dispute the info. You can also ask them to add a fraud alert to your report so you are notified when other information is added to your account.

8. The personal information appearing on your credit report is inaccurate.

It's also a bad sign if the personal information appearing on a credit report doesn't match up with your records. For instance, Sjouwerman says, be wary if an address you've never lived it is listed as your current or former residency. Similarly, check to make sure your correct Social Security Number is listed. If it's not, don't panic. Inaccuracies on a credit report are fairly common and aren't always related to identity theft. Contact the credit bureau that is listing the inaccurate information so they can investigate how it got there. If you do ultimately discover the issue runs deep, you may want to take a trip to your local police station.

"Many people don't realize, but it can be quite helpful to file a police report," Merritt says. The police may not find the culprit, or, in some areas where a bureau is too small, even investigate, but the action may prove helpful when you're trying to get fraudulent charges or inaccurate information eradicated. You can also report a cybercrime to the FBI via its Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Jean Chatzky on Identity Theft [DailyFinance]

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be careful what you post on facebook or on your resume your whole life can be reconstructed by using your friends.......................i think facebook needs to post who viewed your site

July 13 2012 at 4:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Identity theft can extend to your own family in this day and age. It would never occur to people of older generations, like mine, that your children and grandchildren may be the source of identity theft or outright stealing.
Take precautions around your own family safeguarding personal information and valuables. It may save you a lot of grief.

July 13 2012 at 10:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

And they talk about how "big government" invades your privacy. Why do voters alllow such private agencies so much power but go ballistic when one of the reasons why they object setting up a national health plan is
the loss of privacy.

July 12 2012 at 10:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

In March 2009, my cousin turned 30. She went to treat herself to lunch at her favorite restaurant in Philadelphia, she was attending graduate school at the time. She paid for her lunch, sat down and ate her food. About an hour or so later, my aunt got a call from what was then National City, and they informed her that some idiot charged $800 at a Walgreen's.

Then that same idiot went to the grocery store and bought roughly $100 in groceries. Anyhow, after that my aunt called my cousin and asked her to check her purse, and guess what? My cousin's wallet was not in her purse. To say the least, my cousin' (now 33) did not start her 30s off very well.

One time my mom got a call about 10 years or so back from the same company. My dad lived in Kuwait at the time because he could make money tax free overseas under a certain amount. However, the card company tried to pin it on me, I was fourteen at the time. My mom said there was no way I would use her credit card and at that time I was not old enough to have legally have a credit card.

July 12 2012 at 8:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@ #1-- I've been a restaurant manager/server/bartender for years. When someone's credit card is declined-- I generally coach people to say "for some reason our computer won't take this card.. do you have another form of payment?"

It avoids embarrassment for the guest-- I guess, be on the lookout for a card that seems to be "malfunctioning" as well.. especially if you're in a high-class place.

July 12 2012 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you are having a hard time getting responses from your job search, it may be time to do a personal background check and to check on your social security information.
By checking, my husband and a friend both found barriers to there ability to gain employment. My husband's legal status was inexplicably changed to illegal with the Social Security Department. My friend's background check showed years of jobs that she never had and excluded all of the job that she did have creating discrepancies between her resume and her background check.

July 12 2012 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please note that family members or trusted employees are the one's most likely to engage in identify theft because they have the required information. No employee should have unchecked access and if you have a family member with financial issues, you need to be careful.

July 12 2012 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


July 12 2012 at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A couple of years ago the people who issued my debit card called me up and asked when was the last time id been in Thailand,and I said never,why?". They said a charge had been placed on my card for 18 cents. They also said something to the effect of" they test your number for a small amount,then when it works,they do bigger things."They cancelled my card immediatly and issued me a new one. It was a little bit of a hassle,and it took a couple of weeks to happen,but Im glad these people were monitoring my card usage,even though I didnt know they did it. but this time it probably saved me a lot of headaches and financial trouble.

July 12 2012 at 2:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The biggest stealer of identy theft are the ones who want to check your credit , All want your credit card number to give any infirmation. You must sign up for a 7 day "free trial" and give your credit card number. Some say that it only cost $1.00 but they must have your credit card number. ie "Free Credit Score.Com". You bank will usually run a credit check on you for free.

July 12 2012 at 2:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply