Unlike a robbery or break-in where you know immediately that you have a loss, identity theft can remain hidden for days or weeks before you know you have been stolen from. Identity thieves search for ways to use your personal information to charge purchases, get your tax refunds or steal your medical account information.  In the latter case, even if they don’t steal your money, by stealing private information, nearly $50 billion in Medicare fraud is caused by the misuse of innocent people’s personal and medical information.

So, how do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?  Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • You stop getting mail you used to get regularly. It is possible that your bills or other correspondence are being intercepted.
  • You see unusual activity on your accounts. Look through your bank and credit card account statements for unusual charges or withdrawals you don’t recognize and can’t explain.
  • Your Credit Report shows unusual activity. You are entitled by federal law to receive a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once each year for no charge.  To obtain your credit reports go to this link: https://www.annualcreditreport.com.  Look through each report for anything that looks out of place, such as accounts that you don’t recognize. This can be evidence of an identity theft where your accounts have been accessed or new accounts have been opened in your name.
  • A merchant declines your check. You may be surprised if a merchant refuses personal check you have written or is bounced by the bank. If you are generally careful in managing your checking account, it may signal that a thief has been using your bank account or opened an account in your name.
  • You get calls from debt collectors. Assuming you are diligent in paying your bills, getting a call from a debt collector is a clear sign that something is amiss.  It could be that someone has incurred debts in your name.
  • You get rejected on a routine health insurance claim. Your records could show that you’ve reached the limit of your insurance benefits. This can occur if an identity thief targets your medical account and spends up all of your benefits preventing you from making legitimate claim.
  • You get a medical bill you don’t recognize. You may get a bill from a doctor for services you did not receive. In such a case an identity thief may have accessed your health insurance information and used it to receive medical care.  Medicare recipients receive regular statements of services that have been paid on their behalf.  Study them carefully for exactly this reason.

If you suspect that your identity is being misused, act quickly and report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.IdentityTheft.gov.  You can also contact the three major credit bureaus mentioned above to request a credit freeze at no cost to you. This prevents new accounts from being opened in your name.  When you want to open a new account, you will have to contact the bureau to allow you to do so.