Identity theft is when someone gathers the personal information of a victim without their consent and uses this for their own personal gain, usually to the detriment of the victim. Armed with this information and their new false identity, the thief can access credits cards, bank accounts, make purchases or use their identification for other malicious reasons.
But how are identity thieves getting hold of this information? Well, this is usually done through stealing of a wallet, purse or bag containing items like credit cards and other personal details (or finding these if they have previously been lost). It can also be done by hacking into people’s computers or internet connections and stealing their data.
What’s more, in the age of social media, identity theft has become even easier, with people sharing a huge amount of information about themselves online. Some identify thieves even go as far as making fake social media profiles using the pictures and information of their victims.
The problem is, it isn’t always obvious if you’ve become the victim of identity theft and many people don’t realise until it’s too late. With criminals using increasingly sophisticated methods for pertaining information and creating a false identity for themselves, some people might not know they’re a victim for several months after it’s happened.
The good news is, if you arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to spot the signs of identity theft, you’ll be better equipped to recognise the problem should you become a victim. Below, data protection experts Evalian.co.uk are going to look at six signs that you’re the victim of identity theft and what you should do about it.
- You notice strange transactions on your bank statement
It’s always a good idea to check through your bank statements each month, whether online or on paper, just to be sure that everything is as it should be. If you notice any unusual activity or strange transactions and you don’t recognise the reference, don’t just ignore it. Especially if it is for a substantial amount of money.
If you’re confused or unsure about a transaction you can get in touch with your bank and they’ll be able to tell you more about when and where it was made. If you believe that it is a fraudulent transaction you can flag it with them right away and they’ll be able to investigate further.
- You lose a substantial amount of money
On a similar note, if you’ve suddenly noticed a large chunk of money has disappeared from your account, you need to investigate right away. If you know for a fact that you have not spent this money, then you need to do the same as we’ve mentioned above and get in touch with your bank. They’ll be able to investigate the issue and reimburse for your loss when they find the real perpetrator.
- You are refused payment or credit
Identity fraudsters might use your information to apply for large loans or credit cards in your name. So if you genuinely apply for credit and find yourself being refused, despite knowing you have little debt or you have a great credit score, this should be a big red flag. Ask for more details about why your application is being declined and this should help to shed some light on the subject. Then you may need to get in touch with the relevant financial institutions to let them know that someone has been falsely using your identity to get access to funds.
- You receive something you didn’t order
If a shiny new laptop appears at your door, don’t just assume it’s a gift from the universe for being such a great person. This could be a sign that someone is using your information to buy goods for themselves. Some criminals will order goods in your name and intercept the delivery to claim the package for themselves. However, if they are unable to do so or they miss-time this, you may find the goods are delivered to you.
If something arrives that you know you didn’t order, get in touch with the company it’s from and find out when and how the order was made. You can then let them know that your information was used for a fraudulent transaction and return the item for a refund. At this stage, it might also be a good idea to alert your bank or cancel your existing cards. You should also change your password on any online accounts that the criminal may have accessed (your Amazon account for example) and your online banking.
- You are contacted by a debt collector
There are a number of ways you might be contacted about debt. You might find companies start sending you final warnings about loans or payments you haven’t made, you might also find you receive a letter or phone call from a debt collection company looking to recover debt that’s been created in your name.
Similarly, you might find yourself facing a court summons for not paying your bills. If this happens and you know that these debts are not your own, this is a sure-fire sign someone has stolen your identity. If this happens, you need to act immediately. Get in touch with the relevant companies to find out more about where this debt has come from and alert them that your identity may have been stolen. You can then get in touch with the relevant financial institutions and they’ll be able to investigate further for you and get the police involved where necessary.
- Your bins have been tampered with
Finally, although it sounds a little strange, fraudsters might be going through your bins, particularly recycling bins, looking for paperwork containing your personal information. This is why it is a good idea to shred or destroy any documents you no longer need that hold your personal information before discarding them.
So if you notice that your bins have been tampered with, perhaps there is rubbish scattered about where there wasn’t before, this could be a sign someone is trying to steal your identity. Ensuring you’ve properly destroyed or shredded sensitive information instead of simply dumping it in the bin will reduce the risk of a criminal finding out any useful information about you.