Are You a Victim of Identity Theft? Five Signs to Watch For

March 4th, 2022

According to The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), the first three quarters of 2021 saw 1,291 breaches. Meanwhile, the FTC received 2.8 million fraud reports in 2021. The findings are clear. Identity theft continues to grow, and your identity is on the radar of cybercriminals. You’ve got to be able to protect personal information and increase your education and awareness about how to mitigate your risks. 

Identity theft can happen to anyone

Start protecting your identity by changing your thinking. Identity theft is not something is going to happen to someone else. You might read about it and think, I’m not falling for that, but the fact is you have probably already inadvertently exposed personal information to a criminal.

You just don’t know it yet.

We are living in an extremely digitized world where we use online banking, credit card, investment accounts and every day. It is important to understand that this leaves digitized crumbs of our personal information behind. These crumbs are then picked up and exploited by cybercriminals to impersonate us and use this information for a range of illicit activities. We often willingly, but unknowingly, share our personal information with phishers, scammers, and cybercriminals. And even though we might exercise the strictest cyber hygiene, our information can still pass on to criminals.

Watch out for warning signs that your personal information is not ‘personal’ anymore.

Identity theft warning signs

1. Unexplained credit card entries/charges

Credit card usage is ubiquitous these days. Most of our purchases happen through card transactions, whether online or in person. There is a tendency to forget about certain transactions we’ve made in a given day, or we just don’t keep track of them – do you remember the last cup of coffee you bought with your credit or debit card?  Come the end of the month, we make our credit card payment as scheduled, but how many of us actually go through the credit statement with a fine toothcomb?

If you are one of those that don’t, it’s time to start.

If your financial ID has been stolen, a telltale sign is some charges on your credit card that you have no clue about. Initially, criminals will make small charges to see if these go through – and if they do, they can hit your card for a big transaction.

Keep an eye out for fraudulent purchases made on your credit card. If a transaction looks suspicious, flag it with the merchant or card issuer. It’s also possible criminals gain access to all information the required to get new cards made in your name. In this case, you might get an OTP on your phone requesting you authenticate the mobile number, or an email that provides information about the new credit card or a letter from the issuer sent to your home address. It important that you keep an eye out for such anomalies and take appropriate steps when something doesn’t feel right.  

2.  Watch your credit report

Make it a habit to periodically ask for a credit report from one of the three major bureaus that provide such reports: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Typically, you can ask for a free credit report from these organizations once every year, so you can check your credit report every four months.

If you see anything suspicious, like a loan inquiry, that you didn’t make, or even an unfamiliar account attached to your score, ask the bureau to investigate such false information. Your credit score determines your financial viability and if there are problems with it not of your making, you know your personal information has been compromised.

3.  Keep an eye on your bills

You likely receive bills or statements every month from your bank or credit cards. If those stop arriving, don’t just assume it’s a glitch and will sort itself out. This could be a sign that identity thieves might have gained access to your personal information and have used it to change your email ID. Those bills are still being sent – just no longer to you.

It’s even possible to change the address where physical copies of bills or statements are sent. Identity thieves might be making purchases in your name, and you’ll only hear about it when a bill collector comes knocking on your doors.

Any discrepancy in your bills or statements should start ringing the alarm bells in your head.

4. Data breach notification

This is the big one when it comes to signs of identity breach. Criminals can steal your personal information, as well as your organizational credentials. At a time when work-from-home is the norm, we need to be doubly sure that not only our personal information, but also sensitive organizational information remains safe and secure. For many, personal PCs and Macs double up as workstations as well. This is a scenario tailormade for identity theft where criminals can hit paydirt if they access your professional credentials. These can be used to hack into your employer’s network and steal critical data.

If this happens, you get a terrifying notification informing you of a data breach in your organization. This can happen at a fairly personal level, if someone’s hacked into your personal computer and gained unauthorized access to personal data.  If you have deployed an antivirus solution on your personal PCs or Macs, a data breach notification will likely pop up on your screen.

In both cases, the source of the breach can be identity theft.

5. Withdrawals from your bank account

Watch out for clandestine withdrawals from your bank account. These can be easily tracked – make sure you’ve set it up so whenever you withdraw money from your account you receive an SMS notification or an email notification.

We’re inundated with alerts, so you might understandably have a developed tendency of ignoring SMS notifications. Don’t! Especially if it is from your bank.

What are you going to do about it?

Maintaining cyber hygiene if the first step. This includes not clicking on unknown links in emails or sharing personal information on websites that you know nothing about (and can be categorized as malicious). But you won’t be serious about protecting your identity if you don’t use a comprehensive identity protection solution. Sophos Home Identity Protection, delivers prevention, monitoring and alerts, and resolution, the three critical components of security your identity.

You know when your information is at risk and can take immediate preventative steps. To protect your identity, you must accept the fact that it is on the radar of criminals. Not taking proactive steps to secure all information can give you grief.

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