Identity theft was once mostly fodder for Hollywood thrillers, but the rapid rise in digital connectivity has turned it into one of the most common crimes in the country. In 2015, fraudsters pilfered the identities of more than 13 million Americans, according to a study by Javelin, a consumer research firm.
“Identity theft is very common and it’s such an easy crime nowadays,” says Michele Krisanda, a senior product manager with Europ Assistance USA, which partners with GEICO to provide identity protection.
Sometimes, there is little consumers can do to prevent their identities from being stolen. But by recognizing the warning signs of identity theft, they can limit the damage, say experts. Here are seven things to look out for, courtesy of Krisanda and the federal government.
Sign: You get an out-of-the-blue call from a debt collection agency.
What it means: If they’re demanding payment for something you didn’t buy, there’s a chance fraudsters have stolen your credit card info and gone on a shopping spree.
How to minimize your risk: Order your credit report once a year and make sure it doesn’t include accounts you haven’t opened.
Sign: The IRS says it has more than one tax return in your name.
What it means: You may have fallen victim to tax return fraud, an increasingly common scheme that sees scammers file a phony return in your name and pocket the refund.
How to minimize your risk: Guard your Social Security number closely and only give it out when absolutely necessary. Additionally, the earlier you file, the less likely it is that a crook will have already cashed in your refund.
Sign: You notice strange charges on your credit card statement.
What it means: If the purchases don’t ring a bell, this is another indicator that scammers may have pilfered your credit card info.
How to minimize your risk: Carefully review your statement each month. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information, like your credit card or social security numbers. Shred old credit card statements and any credit card offers you receive in the mail.
Sign: On your bank statement, you notice withdrawals that you didn’t make.
What it means: This should set off alarm bells. It could mean that someone has access to your bank account and is draining away your money.
How to minimize your risk: Watch out for “shoulder surfers” at the ATM and shield your PIN and password. Install robust virus protection and anti-phishing software on your computer if you bank online.
Sign: You are denied a loan after your credit report comes back with unexpected problems.
What it means: Scammers may have stolen your identity and racked up debt by opening new credit cards or damaged your credit score by defaulting on loans.
How to minimize your risk: Review your credit report regularly. If you don’t have identity protection or credit monitoring, you can visit annualcreditreport.com to get a free copy.
Sign: The passwords to your favorite social media sites don’t work anymore.
What it means: Fraudsters may have gained access to your accounts, which are goldmines of personal information that can be used to decode passwords and answer security questions.
How to minimize your risk: Create complex passwords that thieves cannot easily guess and closely review the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Make sure passwords are at least eight characters long and have numbers, symbols and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, avoid using complete words, especially your name and your company’s name, and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts
Sign: Your credit card bill stops arriving at your home.
What it means: An identity thief may have stolen your credit card number, gone on a shopping spree and changed your billing address to cover his or her tracks.
How to minimize your risk: Keep close tabs on your billing cycles and if your statement is late, call your credit card company.
What to do:
If you suspect that someone may have stolen your identity, act fast. If you have Identity Protection through GEICO and Europ Assistance USA, you can call (800) 206-4065, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A representative will help you get the ball rolling on solving the problem. If you don’t have coverage, visit the federal government’s website for victims of identity theft, which has a step-by-step recovery plan.
GEICO’s Identity Protection plan provided by Europ Assistance USA gives you round-the-clock protection and will be there to help if you’re a victim of identity fraud.