Discover how to check if someone is using your identity (+ what to do)
November 17, 2023
We wouldn’t wish identity theft on anyone. It’s stressful and frustrating knowing someone accessed your personal information and tedious returning to complete financial security. As unwelcome as it is, it happens more often than you might think. But knowledge is power, and understanding what identity theft is and how to check if someone is using your identity ensures you catch warning signs early on — or, better yet, that you know how to robustly secure your personal information before anything can happen.
What are the most common signs of identity theft?
The risks of identity theft can be great — like lost funds and an unrecoverable low credit score — so understanding early signs of fraudulent activity is crucial. Here are a few of the most common indications of identity theft:
Unexpected tax documents: Receiving a tax notice or record for a return you didn't file indicates someone might be living on your financial reputation.
Mail that isn't yours: If your mailbox starts collecting letters not addressed to you, or if you’re missing mail you should be receiving, this might signal identity theft.
Debt collectors on your trail: Your identity might be compromised if debt collectors call about unfamiliar accounts, so don’t dismiss these calls as mere mistakes.
Data breach notifications: You can check sites like “Have I Been Pwned” to discover whether any recent data breaches have resulted in your information becoming public.
Medical bills for unknown services: Bills for medical procedures you never underwent are a telltale of identity theft.
Unexplained charges: Even small, unexplained charges on your credit and debit card statements might be the smoke that indicates a fire, as thieves often make small purchases to test the waters before diving in.
Suspicious emails: Receiving emails from services and people that don’t look familiar might signal information theft.
How to check for identity theft: 4 methods
Knowing how to check if your identity has been stolen is the cornerstone of personal security, helping you quickly identify fraudulent activities and compromised information. Here are four methods you can use to check for theft.
1. Look at recent account statements
The most common reason for identity theft is to use someone’s finances, so check credit and debit accounts for unfamiliar charges. And if a bill doesn’t arrive as expected (via snail mail or email), it could mean someone has rerouted your mail to cover their tracks.
2. Check your credit reports
Your credit report reflects your overall financial health, and if someone’s making large purchases and not paying bills, your report will showcase these actions. If you don’t already regularly check these reports, you can get a free annual report sent to you from any of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
3. Pay attention to IRS notices
If the IRS contacts you about a tax return you didn't file or if you receive tax documents from an unknown employer, these are red flags that someone is exploiting your identity. Contact the IRS immediately to clear up any confusion and better understand the situation.
4. Embrace the best identity theft protection services
Consider enlisting an identity theft protection service like IronVest to enjoy behind-the-scenes monitoring of account activity across various platforms.
How to protect against identity theft
Identity theft is overwhelming, and returning to full identity security is time-consuming. Avoid the stomach-dropping experience altogether by protecting your personal information.
Fortify your document security
Secure all personal documents in a safe place, like a lockable filing cabinet or an encrypted and hidden hard drive. The documents you should protect include:
Important passwords, including master passwords to password managers
Your birth certificate and passport
Safeguard your social security number (SIN)
Only share your SIN when needed, and avoid keeping it written or typed out in emails or documents someone might access. Be wary of unsolicited requests for your SIN, like on an apartment or job application form.
Guard yourself against scams
Educate yourself on the latest scams, including:
Account takeover fraud
Be wary of unknown parties asking for sensitive personal information such as your SIN, driver’s license number, or credit card details. Always confirm the contact's identity and never click on suspicious links or attachments in emails.
Invest in solid digital security measures
Worry less about prevention with digital security software like IronVest. You’ll enjoy comprehensive protection across all online accounts, regular security updates, and a robust firewall.
You should also use a virtual private network (VPN) and avoid accessing public Wi-Fi to keep online activities secure from prying eyes.
The most crucial first steps when reporting identity theft
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, immediate action mitigates the damage. Follow these critical steps to officially report the theft:
Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): On IdentityTheft.gov, you can file an official identity theft report, and the FTC will guide you through the recovery process, including creating a personal recovery plan.
Alert a credit bureau: Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. This alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name.
Consider a credit freeze: For added security, opt for a credit freeze, which locks down your credit reports entirely, preventing new inquiries without your consent.
Notify the IRS: If your SIN has been compromised, alert the IRS to avoid tax fraud and fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.
Document everything: Keep a detailed file of all communications and reports, and file a police report. This evidence is vital for law enforcement and any legal action you pursue.
Take charge of your digital safety with IronVest
Safeguarding your identity is an ongoing process, not a one-time setup. IronVest can take on this continuous work with our all-in-one security and privacy features, such as biometric password protection, masked emails, masked phone numbers, and virtual credit cards.
Get IronVest today, and enjoy comprehensive sensitive data and account protection across platforms.