Identity Theft
Identity Theft

4 signs you’re a victim of identity theft

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Finding out that someone has stolen your identity can be mentally and financially devastating. An ITRC study found that 54 percent of victims of identity fraud said they felt violated as a result of their identity being misused, with 33 percent reporting they didn’t have enough money to buy food or pay for utilities. 

Unfortunately, identity theft is becoming increasingly common. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of identity theft cases more than doubled from 650,523 to 1.4 million. The high uptick in cases suggests that fraudsters are getting better at stealing consumer’s information.

As fraudsters become more experienced, it’s not always possible to prevent identity theft. The only effective way to confront identity theft is for consumers to know the signs of fraud and take action quickly to minimize the damage. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the key signs that indicate you’ve fallen victim to identity fraud. 

How to detect fraud: Top 4 signs of identity theft 

There are potentially dozens of signs of identity theft that indicate a fraudster has used your information to conduct criminal activity, but there are four main signs you need to look out for if you want to catch fraud quickly: 

1. Your information was exposed in a data breach 

An early warning sign that you’re at risk of identity theft is if you discover a hacker leaked your information during a data breach. For example, if you discover your email address, password, and credit card details on a public database or online forum, then there’s a chance a fraudster will use that information to steal your identity. 

The good news is that there are many simple and free online resources you can check to see if your information has been publicly released. Free services, such as HaveIbeenPwned and Identity Guard, allow you to enter your email address and check if your personal information or passwords are included in any recent data breaches. 

That being said, if you want more comprehensive protection, then you can also sign up for an identity theft protection service like Aura, with an anti-fraud team specialist that can trawl the dark web to see if your information has been leaked anywhere online and guide you on how to respond effectively if your personal data is exposed. 

2. Unusual payments made from your bank account 

Unusual withdrawal or payments from your bank account represents one of the key signs that you’ve fallen victim to identity theft. If you notice that you’ve been charged for goods or services that you (or your partner) didn’t pay for, then it’s almost certain that someone made those payments fraudulently. 

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t overlook unusual charges even if they’re small, as many fraudsters will make ‘test charges’ to see if the payment details they have will work. 

If you’re looking through your account history and notice payments that you don’t recognize, contact your bank immediately to notify them that you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, and ask them to close the account immediately. The bank will help you open a new account with another account number, and issue you a new card. 

Periodically checking your accounts online is vital for ensuring that all payments taken from your account are legitimate. Checking your accounts once or twice a week is an ideal amount for making sure that you catch fraudulent purchases quickly. 

3. Suspicious activity on your credit report 

Another key indicator of fraud is suspicious activity on your credit report. If you check your credit report and notice that someone has opened an account or applied for credit in your name, then you need to take action immediately to limit the damage. 

If you check your credit report annually with credit bureaus such as Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion, and notice fraudulent activity, then you can contact each bureau to freeze your credit and put a fraud alert on your account, which will prevent the criminal from applying for further credit. 

However, if the fraudster successfully applied for credit, then it’s very likely that they have access to other sensitive information like your Social Security number, which puts you at high risk of future fraud attempts. In this scenario, it’s a good idea to consider credit monitoring, either from a credit bureau or a third-party service, to catch future fraud.

4. Someone’s hacked your VoIP phone system 

Many fraudsters will attempt to hack VoIP phone systems so they can listen to your calls and eavesdrop on your personal conversations. After gaining access, they can piece together personal information and credit card details, which they can use to commit identity fraud.

Detecting VoIP hacking can be tricky, but there are a number of ways you can spot unauthorized usage. Checking your call history, and keeping an eye out for calls from unknown numbers or locations, is a great place to start.

Other important warning signs to look out for include devices configured with microphones and webcams as always-on, unusual extensions added to your web browser, and unusually high phone bills.

If you suspect that someone has hacked your VoIP phone system, you will need to report them to your VoIP provider immediately, so that they can investigate further and help you block the intruder. It’s also worth looking into purchasing a VPN, so that you can encrypt your personal calls and protect against eavesdropping.

How tax and accounting professionals can help clients recover from identity theft

Whenever a consumer falls victim to identity theft, the impact can take a devastating toll on their mental health, particularly when they’re left to pick up the pieces financially. As a result, tax and accounting professionals have a unique role in helping victims of identity fraud recover and get the situation back under control.  

From a distance, tax and accounting professionals can guide clients on how to minimize the risk of fraud, and in cases where fraud has taken place, instruct them on how to communicate with creditors and government departments.

Some simple ways tax professionals and accountants can help clients include: 

  • Using an identity theft protection service, such as Aura or Identity Guard, to consistently monitor the dark web for identity theft.
  • Reporting identity theft or data loss to creditors and the IRS.
  • Shortlist identity theft protection services that can protect high-risk individuals.
  • Providing clients with guidance on avoiding scams: Don’t open emails from unknown senders, and never give out personal information over the phone, for example.

Providing support is particularly important for high-risk individuals, such as clients who have previously been targeted by fraudsters, or elderly clients who struggle to understand the latest identity fraud threats and scams.  

Keep an eye out and act fast 

Identity theft isn’t a matter of if, but when. Although you can’t always prevent fraudsters from stealing your personal information, by monitoring your bank accounts and credit reports, and keeping an eye out for data breaches, you can detect the early signs of fraud and react quickly, before a fraudster has a chance to do any real damage. 

Whether you choose to regularly monitor your identity for signs of identity theft or you outsource to a third party to do it on your behalf is up to you. The most important thing is to be consistent and to check your accounts for criminal activity regularly.

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