Top 10 Signs of Identity Theft

by Bill Hardekopf

Recent security breaches at Target, Skype and Snapchat show that identity theft has become a major problem in our society. Unfortunately, personal information, email, credit cards, and bank accounts are not as private and protected as we think. It is important for consumers to recognize suspicious activity and take steps to protect themselves. Here are the top 10 signs of identity theft:

1. Unauthorized Credit or Debit Card Purchases

Fraudulent debit or credit card purchases are a clear indication of identity theft. You need to carefully review each transaction that appears on your statement. If you notice something on your account that you do not remember buying, you need to contact the card company immediately.

2. Unexpected Credit Approvals

Have you ever been approved for a loan or a credit card you never applied for? That may be a sign of identity theft. You have to be careful about jumping to that conclusion since some businesses send out mass mailings of what appear to be approvals of a loan.

3. Instant Credit Decline

This one applies to people who normally have good credit and stay up to date with their credit card payments. If you try to apply for a loan and instantly get declined, it may be because there are issues with your credit you don't know about. The same is true if you try to use your card and it gets rejected at the register. If you know you should have credit and you don't, you need to investigate this issue.

4. Unprompted Collection Letters

If you start getting collection letters in the mail from companies, especially ones you may not deal with, you need to contact them to understand the problem. You may find that someone else has been opening accounts under your name. Call the collection company and explain the situation.

5. Email Account Issues

Sometimes an identity thief will hack into your email account to see what kind of information is stored there. They will check for bank statements, credit card receipts, and any other financial information.

6. Flagged Account Warnings

If your bank or credit card account has odd charges on it, your financial institution may flag your account for closer monitoring. If you get a letter or call, you need to talk to the bank and see what is going on. Make sure that you know who you are talking to without question because it may actually be someone looking to steal your identity in the future. Do not give out your social security number or other sensitive information without verifying the identity of that person.

7. Credit Score Decreases

If you notice a severe drop in your credit score, it may be the work of an identity thief. Dropping a couple points from time to time is to be expected, but not dropping 50+ points. There should be a page in your credit report that details the various accounts you have open. If you notice one that you personally did not open, contact the company to see what they can do.

8. Surprising Arrest Warrants

If you have a warrant out for your arrest for no reason, someone may have stolen your identity to commit a crime. Talk to the police about where you were during the warrant-related incident and see if they can track down the real criminal.

9. Medical Insurance Denials

Some identity thieves will use medical insurance information to take care of physical problems they are experiencing. They essentially visit the doctor and then charge the bill to someone else. If you get unexpected medical bills in the mail or you get denied insurance coverage when you have a problem, you could be a victim of ID theft.

10. Missing Letters

Missing mail you thought you should have had by now? Someone may have taken it right out of your mailbox. Call the company and see if they did in fact send something out. If so, have them resend the letter and monitor your credit accounts in the meantime.

Here are three tips to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards offer more fraud protections and it is easier to dispute an unauthorized on a credit card instead of a debit card. If you continue to use your debit card, regularly change your PIN, sign up for fraud protections services, and sign the back of your card.
  • Regularly change your password and don't use the same password for multiple accounts. Passwords should be a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols.
  • Take advantage of free credit reports from the three national credit bureaus and regularly monitor your reports for fraudulent activity. You can get these free reports at

Reviewed January 2018

Take the Next Step:

  • See what one expert advises you do to prevent identity theft.
  • Don't be a victim of identity theft. Protect your identity with Experian's IdentityWorks FREE for the first 30 days.
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Bill Hardekopf is CEO of, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates.

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