How to spot warning signs of identity theft

Identity theft reports doubled in US in 2020

Reports of identity theft doubled in 2020, so it's more important than ever to know what red flags to look out for to protect yourself from theft.
Reports of identity theft doubled in 2020, so it's more important than ever to know what red flags to look out for to protect yourself from theft.

Reports of identity theft in the U.S. doubled last year, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Identity theft is a stressful situation: Thieves steal your personal information to sell to others, or access your accounts and take your money. People across the U.S. are receiving text message after text message, with scary warnings like those pretending to be from the bank, saying your account is locked because of abnormal activity -- but it’s all fake.

This phishing scam is just one way that hackers are trying to steal your identity.

Last year, there were nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission -- that’s almost double from 2019. Many people reported their information was misused to apply for government help, like unemployment insurance.

That’s why it’s important to recognize the red flags so that you can protect yourself from identity theft.

Identity theft warning signs

One of the first warning signs you should look out for: your mail.

If you start getting bills or statements for accounts that you never set up, or your regular bills stop showing up, it could be a sign that someone has changed your billing address.

Another warning sign: If you start to receive suspicious messages, particularly messages that are seeking to authenticate accounts that you did not set up. Someone else might be setting those accounts up in your name.

Keep an eye on your credit, and pay attention if your credit score suddenly gets better or worse. A con artist could have maxed out your credit card without paying the bill, or they’re building your credit to run through it later. A huge red flag would be if you’re denied a loan.

Also keep an eye on your credit card and bank statements. Scam artists will often test run small charges to see if you noticed. Report any activity that is unusual, on both credit card and banking statements.

Related: Why you should clear digital clutter to protect your identity

Another sign of identity theft: If you hear from the IRS. We’ve been seeing this a lot during the pandemic: They let you know that someone else has filed in your name, or they deny your tax refund. But remember, messages from the IRS will only come in the mail; the agency will not call or text you.

A warning sign would include being denied medical coverage. Scammers can, and have, stolen identities to use health benefits.

Another red flag is if debt collectors call to claim debts you didn’t even know existed.

If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, the Better Business Bureau recommends reporting the concern and getting a personalized recovery plan. You can report the concern online with the Federal Trade Commission right here.

The BBB also wants you to report scams on their website right here.


Related: Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office warns residents about impersonation scams


About the Author:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.