Credit and identity theft -- it can happen to anybody. Statistics from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service show that around 7 percent of people over the age of 16 were victims of identity theft in 2014. About 86 percent of identity theft victims had an account used fraudulently.
Fraud takes several forms, as the credit reporting company Experian points out. A thief might use an existing credit card or he or she might open new accounts in your name. In the worst case scenarios, fraud can be ongoing and a thief could actually pretend to be you. Instead of just stealing your credit card information, the thief might use your personal information to open new accounts, receive medical treatment, or to fool law enforcement.
In some cases, the signs can be easy to spot. Someone gets a hold of your credit card information and proceeds to max out your cards, or a bill collector starts calling you about an account you never opened. In other instances, you might need to do a bit of detective work before you realize you've been the victim of identity theft or have had your credit card information stolen.
A Few Unexplained Charges
You don't remember ordering a coffee at Starbucks or making a small purchase at a drug store, but the charges are showing up on your most recent credit card statement. Credit thieves commonly use stolen card information to make small purchases. It's easy to miss a few $5 charges here and there. If you see anything you know you didn't buy when you review your card statement, report it to the card issuer right away. It can reverse the charges, cancel the current card number and issue you a new card.
You Get a Credit Card You Don't Remember Applying For
If you receive a credit card in the mail and you don't remember applying for it, it's likely that someone applied for the card in your name and used your current address on the account. Although it might be a nice thought that a card company simply decided to issue you a new card, without you asking for or applying for one, that's probably not the case. Give the card company a call when you get the card to ask for more details and to cancel it.
Your Mail Goes Missing
Since mail does sometimes get lost, you might not even notice if you don't get your credit card statement or other bills. But, missing mail can be a sign that someone's hacked into your accounts and fraudulently changed your address. If you notice a missing statement, log on to your account right away or call the company to see if your address has been changed. You'll also want to look to see if any strange charges have appeared on the account and report those to the company.
This is another reason the e-statements have become a trend with all your bills. Besides helping the environment, e-statements can help prevent identity thief and fraud.
Errors on Your Credit Report
If you don't check your credit report frequently, it's pretty easy to miss any errors or changes on it. When a thief opens a card or account in your name, it will show up on your report. You have the opportunity to review your report from each of the three reporting companies once a year, for free. Take the time to review what's on it and let the company know if there's any unusual or inaccurate information. It could be the first sign that you've been the victim of fraud.
Once you've noticed any signs of fraud, you want to be quick to take action and to report it. Contact your credit union or the credit card companies to tell them your information has been stolen. It's also a good idea to file a police report and to change all of your passwords and log in information for every account.