While frequent data breaches may have desensitized some consumers to identity theft, it’s still important to pay attention to early warning signs your info is being used illegally, no matter how creative, silly or transparent a scam may seem.
“For the most part, identity thieves are sophisticated, dogged and damn smart. They take advantage of distraction and trust and look for the slightest crack or crevice to crawl into our lives,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, an identity theft services company. ” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. The potential imaginary opportunity you miss could end up saving you time, stress and money.”
“[Some signs] can be sort of amusing, but they’re all terrifying,” says Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for anti-virus software company Norton, since compromised personal information can lead to big financial woes. Norton estimates in 2010 more than 74 million people in the U.S. were victims of some form of cybercrime, leading to $32 billion in direct financial losses.
To help you avoid adding to these losses, here are some early signs your identity has been compromised.
Your Credit Card Gets Declined for an Unknown Reason
An expected decline can be one of the first signs an account has been hacked into, says Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of network security firm KnowBe4. This is why you shouldn’t be blasé if a retailer says their system isn’t taking your plastic.
Should a card get denied, go home and check your account immediately. If your funds are intact, you may want to call your issuer to see if they can help you get to the bottom of what may have caused the transaction to fail.
Mystery Charges Start Appearing on Your Credit or Debit Card Statements
Strange charges on your credit or debit card account usually mean someone out there is up to no good, but you shouldn’t only be on the lookout for big charges. Crooks who have purchased the number via illegal carder forums will often “test numbers with small purchases,” Merritt says.
This is why you should call your issuer, no matter how big or how small the suspicious charge is. They can help you determine if the purchase is being made illegally or was simply a mistake. For instance, a clerk may have keyed in the wrong account numbers when processing a transaction over the phone or another shopper may have reversed some numbers on the card while shopping online. If the charges are tied to a bigger issue, your credit card company can also help you ensure the fraud remains an isolated incident.
“They’ll walk you through the next steps,” Sjouwerman says.
Merchandise You Didn’t Order Shows up at Your House
It’s also a bad sign if merchandise you don’t recognize gets delivered to your doorstep, since its sudden appearance could mean someone has gotten access to one of your online shopping accounts. While using the credit card on file, they may have forgotten to change its default shipping address, Merritt says, leading to the unexpected gifts.
If this does happen, call the retailer to arrange to have the merchandise returned. You should also change the password associated with the compromised account and call your credit card issuer to have the card replaced or flagged for future fraudulent activity.
A Debt Collector Calls You for a Debt You’ve Never Heard Of
If a debt collector starts calling to a collect on a debt you’ve never heard of, someone else may be putting your identity to use, Sjouwerman says. This is why, as tempting as it may be, you can’t ignore the calls after initial contact. Instead, find out as much as you can about the purported debt in question so you can determine if it is, in fact, being attributed to you, then take these steps to have it eradicated.
Image: B Rosen, via Flickr