Most of us use the internet every day, so we’re comfortable sharing a lot of information online. However, cybercriminals want us to get a bit too comfortable so they can take our personal or financial data and use it for their benefit. This is called identity theft, and it can cost people money and may dip their credit score.
Fortunately, you can help minimize what happens by knowing the signs of identity theft and taking fast action when you recognize them. Find out how below.
How does identity theft happen?
Being online comes with many benefits, but it can also come with some risks. Identity theft usually begins with the criminal accessing sensitive personal data, such as Social Security numbers, birthdates, home addresses, bank account information, and driver’s license details. The fraudster can then take this information to fake your identity, using it to take out credit cards, apply for loans, and more.
Here’s a quick look at some ways identity thieves can get their hands on your valuable data:
- Phishing scams: Phishing scams can come in the form of mail, email, or websites. They may involve an identity thief pretending to be an entity you trust, like your own bank or insurance provider, to extract personal data.
- Data breaches: Many companies store your data, from your health care provider to your internet service provider. For example, you may save payment details for your favorite shopping site. If hackers target those companies in a data breach, they can leak or access your sensitive information.
- Social media snooping: Criminals may look to your social media to get information, like your birthdate and home address. Even seemingly innocent details, like the names of your children or pets, can be of interest to an identity thief. Why? People often use these details in their passwords.
- Hacking devices: Hackers may try to infiltrate your computer, tablet, or mobile device through viruses or malware. That’s where antivirus software can help. McAfee’s Total Protection service works for you by protecting your devices and personal information from criminals.
- Simple theft: Not all identity thieves use advanced methods to get your information. In fact, a person can steal your phone and access any personal data you have on it if they can unlock it. Since many people save passwords to sensitive accounts on their devices, they are easy to hack.
- Dumpster diving: This is another example of a less tech-savvy approach to identity theft. If you throw away documents with sensitive data, thieves may get the information they want from your garbage. For example, bank account statements contain your account numbers, while pay stubs may include Social Security numbers. You should always shred paperwork before tossing it.
There are many ways thieves can get their hands on your data. Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself against these methods. For example, you can protect your computer, tablet, or mobile device against hackers by equipping it with a strong password and safeguarding against phishing by adding a firewall and utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) like those offered by McAfee.
9 warning signs your identity has been stolen
With some best practices, you can protect your data and help safeguard you and your family against identity theft. One way to continue living your best life online is to watch for potential warning signs of identity theft. This ensures you can take fast action and minimize the effects if you’re targeted. Here are some essential signs to look out for.
You’re alerted to a credit card charge you didn’t make
Financial identity theft is one of the most common types of identity theft, and credit cards are a popular target. The rise in online shopping has made credit card fraud even more common.
Your online banking portal or app should allow you to set up alerts to email, call, or text you about suspected fraudulent credit card charges. If you get an alert, someone may have taken your identity.
Your loan or credit card application was denied
If you apply for a loan or line of credit and your application is denied, dig deeper. A rejection could indicate that your credit score is lower than you thought, possibly due to fraudulent activity. For example, someone may use your information to get new credit cards and not pay them off, leaving you responsible.
There’s a change to your credit score
Changes in your credit score can indicate identity theft. For example, if someone takes out utility bills in your name and doesn’t pay them, your credit score may dip. Checking your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) can help pinpoint the problem.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allows U.S. consumers to get a free credit report every 12 months. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of yours from the credit reporting agencies. You can also pay for credit monitoring services to track your score.
There’s a new account you didn’t open under your name
Once identity thieves obtain enough data, including your name and address, they might be able to open new accounts and credit cards. When you check your credit report, keep an eye out for new accounts that you didn’t open. Another red flag is if you start getting bank statements or bills addressed to you for accounts you don’t recognize.
Your information was part of a data breach
Companies are required to notify customers of data breaches that could impact them. For example, if you save your payment information and home address on a music streaming provider’s website and their database is hacked, identity thieves may get your data. Keep an eye out for notifications and read the news. The McAfee blog is another great resource for information on data breaches.
Debt collectors call about accounts you never opened
If debt collectors start calling, be cautious, especially if they’re referring to accounts you aren’t familiar with. Don’t provide personal information to any collection agencies that call, as this can be a potential phishing scam. However, it’s a good idea to follow up on these cases by checking your credit report for new accounts. You could be liable if someone opened accounts under your name and didn’t pay them.
You receive bills for medical services you never used
Medical theft occurs when a fraudster imitates another person to get health care or supplies. For example, a person might use your identity to get prescription medication at a pharmacy. If you get unfamiliar medical bills, follow up. Incorrect medical records could impact your insurance premiums or interfere with your ability to get the care you need in the future.
Mail is addressed to your home but with another person’s name
This could be an indicator of synthetic identity theft. This occurs when a fraudster creates a fake identity using various people’s real information. For example, they may use your address and Social Security number and another person’s photo to create a fake persona that’s creditworthy. They can then take out credit cards in that fake person’s name.
A tax return is filed under your name without your knowledge
If you receive a confirmation of an annual tax filing before you’ve filed, take note. Criminals may try to file a tax return for another person to access their tax refund. Alternatively, you may find that you’re unable to e-file your taxes, which can occur if someone else has already filed under your name.
What to do if you think your identity has been stolen
No one wants their identity stolen, but it’s still good to be prepared if it does happen. If you notice the above red flags, here are some steps you may need to take:
- Change passwords and login details for any affected accounts. If you use the same password for other accounts, change those too. The good news is that McAfee’s identity protection services come with a password manager, so you don’t have to worry about remembering your credentials across devices.
- Freeze accounts with banks or credit card companies that show any suspicious activity, including debit and credit card Most financial institutions have a dedicated fraud department to help.
- Review your credit reports if you haven’t already and report any suspected fraud to the respective credit bureau.
- Contact local law enforcement to file a police report for lost or stolen credit cards, driver’s licenses, and more. Also, report your lost license to the DMV.
- Alert the IRS fraud alert department in case of tax-related fraud.
- Report Social Security-related fraudulent activity to the relevant government agency, the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.
- Place a freeze on your credit report. This blocks access to it to extend credit, ensuring no one can take out new lines of credit in your name.
You may also want to visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and find resources to help guide your recovery plan.
Get personalized online protection
Worries about identity fraud shouldn’t prevent your household from enjoying the benefits of a connected world. McAfee’s identity theft protection services can help you enjoy everyday conveniences while keeping you safe. Packages can be tailored to your needs, including 24/7 monitoring, ID theft coverage, VPN services, and more. It’s guided online protection made easy.