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Afraid Your Identity Has Been Stolen? Here‘s How to Find Out

Have you ever worried that someone may be using your personal information without your permission? Identity theft is a growing menace that affects millions of Americans like you each year. Having your personal and financial information stolen can be downright scary and extremely damaging.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to uncover if your identity has been compromised and protect yourself. This guide will walk you through how to check if your identity has been stolen and provide recommendations on the best ways to guard against identity fraud happening in the first place.

How Identity Theft Occurs

Before learning how to detect if your identity has been stolen, it helps to understand all the ways identity theft typically happens.

Identity thieves are always coming up with new schemes to steal personal information and commit fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission‘s most recent data, identity theft and fraud reports reached 1.4 million in 2021 – an all-time high.

Here are some of the most common methods criminals use to get their hands on people‘s sensitive data and assume their identities:

  • Data breaches – Widespread data breaches at major retailers, credit bureaus, hospitals, banks, and other entities allow cybercriminals to steal information like full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, driver‘s license details, and credit card numbers on a massive scale. Over 22 billion records were exposed in data breaches during 2022 alone according to RiskBased Security.
  • Phishing scams – Deceptive emails, texts, calls, and fake websites trick users into disclosing their login credentials, account numbers, and other personal data that scammers use for financial theft. Phishing attacks increased 13% in 2022 with 667,273 incidents according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.
  • Skimming devices – Skimmers secretly placed on ATM machines, gas pumps, and retail checkout counters copy debit and credit card information to create counterfeit cards. An FTC report found that credit card skimming theft totaled $138 million in 2021.
  • Theft from homes and vehicles – Paper documents stolen from homes, cars, and the mail like bank statements, tax returns, and health records provide thieves with all the personal details they need to open fraudulent accounts.
  • Social engineering scams – Scammers use deception and manipulation to trick customer service agents into revealing account info that leads to identity theft in an approach known as pretexting.
  • Hacking computers and phones – Malware, spyware, and hacking tools infect devices and export sensitive data like logins, financial info, and identity credentials that thieves monetize.
  • Social media scams – Identity thieves gather personal details like your mother‘s maiden name, date of birth, pets name, and other info from social media sites to gain access to accounts. Oversharing makes you vulnerable.
  • Child identity theft – Children‘s unused Social Security numbers and clean credit profiles appeal to fraudsters seeking to open accounts. One in 10 children have their identity stolen before age 18 according to Javelin Research.
  • Synthetic identity theft – Criminals combine real and fake identifying information to create elaborate new identities that are harder to detect as fraudulent when applying for credit and benefits.

Staying alert to the many tactics identity thieves employ can help you better protect yourself and your family from becoming victims.

How to Check if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

If your personal information winds up in the wrong hands, how can you actually detect identity theft and fraud? Here are the top ways to monitor for warning signs that someone is illegally using your identity:

1. Carefully Review Your Credit Reports

One of the best ways to detect identity theft early is to regularly check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Thanks to federal law, every person is entitled to get a free credit report from each of the nationwide credit bureaus once per year at

Make sure to thoroughly inspect your reports to look for any accounts or activities that seem incorrect or suspicious. Here are some clear warning signs on your credit report that signal potential identity theft:

  • New credit accounts you didn‘t open
  • Inquiries from creditors you didn‘t apply to
  • Late or missed payments you don‘t recognize
  • Debt collections for accounts that aren‘t yours
  • Addresses of yours that are inaccurate
  • Other personal details like your SSN that are wrong

This type of fraudulent information on your credit report indicates someone could be illegally accessing and misusing your identity. During the pandemic, you can check your credit reports weekly for free. The ability to access your credit reports more frequently makes it easier to spot suspicious activity.

2. Closely Monitor Bank and Credit Card Statements

In addition to your credit reports, you should also carefully scrutinize monthly statements from your checking account, savings account, and credit cards for any fraudulent activity. Look for transactions, transfers, or charges that seem fishy or that you know you did not authorize.

Some examples of suspicious transactions that might indicate identity theft include:

  • ATM withdrawals you didn‘t make, especially in unfamiliar locations
  • Debit card purchases you don‘t recognize
  • Checks cashed or deposited that you didn‘t write
  • Missing checks in your checkbook sequence
  • Automatic payments or transfers to unfamiliar entities
  • New credit cards or loans opened in your name

If you spot any unauthorized debit or credit transactions on your statements, it likely means an identity thief has improperly accessed your bank or credit card account. Immediately report any fraudulent activity to your financial institution or lender. They can freeze your account to stop additional losses. Monitor your statements closely every month to catch unauthorized charges quickly.

3. Review Explanations of Medical Benefits

Medical identity theft is a growing problem that can be hard to detect. It happens when someone uses your insurance information, Social Security number, or other personal details without your knowledge to obtain healthcare services, medical equipment, prescription drugs, or other items that get billed to your health plan.

To help uncover any potential medical identity theft, carefully check the explanations of benefits statements you receive from your health insurer. Watch for items like:

  • Doctor visits or procedures you did not have
  • Equipment or ambulance charges you didn‘t incur
  • Prescriptions filled in your name for medications you don‘t take
  • Services listed for relatives wrongly covered under your insurance

Also check your medical records held by your healthcare providers to confirm there aren‘t any inaccuracies. Unrecognized care billed to your health plan is a major red flag of medical identity theft that you need to address promptly.

4. Monitor Tax Records and the IRS for Fraud

Tax identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your Social Security number to claim a refund. Contact the IRS to check whether any tax returns have been filed under your SSN that look potentially fraudulent. The IRS has tips on detecting tax identity theft and an Identity Protection PIN program that can alert you to issues.

Watch for any IRS letters, bills, or audit notices for tax years when you didn‘t file a return. That‘s an indication an identity thief could be targeting you. Immediately report any evidence of IRS identity theft to the agency.

5. Monitor Accounts with Login Credentials

For all your financial accounts that have online access, routinely log in and check for any signs of unauthorized access. Closely review account profiles for changes to your personal details, contact info, passwords, and security settings.

Look for:

  • New secondary email addresses added
  • Changing your password or security questions
  • Account password reset emails you didn‘t initiate
  • Unrecognized linked accounts or services

Unexpected activity in your online accounts may signal that a fraudster has accessed them by stealing your username and password. Take steps to further secure any compromised accounts.

6. Check Your Social Security Earnings Record

An important way to look for use of your Social Security number is to verify your earnings record with the Social Security Administration. Sign up for a mySocialSecurity account to view your lifetime income history.

Look for employers, income, or jobs listed that are unfamiliar to you. This could indicate someone is illegally using your SSN for employment, tax fraud, or other scams. Report any dubious earnings to the SSA for investigation.

7. Monitor Your Child‘s Identity

For parents, it‘s also crucial to guard against child identity theft. Check your child‘s credit report for any accounts or listings that could indicate someone is misusing their identity. You can request your child‘s credit report for free from Many parents make this a routine practice to spot problems early on.

Also watch for any suspicious medical bills or questionable tax documents like refunds that arrive for your child. These could signal identity theft as well. Consider freezing your child‘s credit if allowed by your state.

8. Review Account Statements and Bills in Detail

Keep a close eye on mailed account statements, bills, explanation of benefits, tax forms, and other correspondence you expect to receive regularly. Fraudsters will sometimes change a victim‘s address and redirect mail in order to steal account info and commit theft.

If you notice a regular statement never arriving, that could be an red flag. Immediately reach out to the provider to find out why you did not get the expected statement. Ask them to verify your account details and check for any signs of unauthorized access. Closely tracking bills helps thwart theft schemes.

9. Monitor Your Credit with Protection Services

For ongoing monitoring and protection, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service like LifeLock, IdentityForce, IDShield, or Credit Karma. They provide credit reports and alerts that flag suspicious credit activities in your name across multiple bureaus. This makes them an excellent line of defense against new account fraud.

Some identity protection services also monitor financial accounts, public records, payday loan applications, and other identity threat areas. Their alerts can notify you at the first sign of any potentially fraudulent use of your personal information.

What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

If your detective work uncovers warning signs or clear evidence that your identity has been compromised, take swift action to limit the impacts and prevent further misuse of your information. Here are the steps to take right away if identity theft strikes:

1. Contact Companies to Shut Down Fraudulent Activity

If you confirm unauthorized charges or accounts opened in your name, get in touch with those businesses or creditors immediately. Ask them to close or freeze the fraudulent accounts. Report the identity theft to their fraud department. Change any account numbers, passwords, PINs, or security questions on your real accounts if appropriate. This helps halt the thief‘s access.

2. Place Fraud Alerts on Your Credit Reports

Request that Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion place fraud alerts on your credit reports to warn lenders of potential identity theft. This will make opening new fraudulent accounts tougher. It also entitles you to a free credit report from each bureau so you can look for other signs of misuse.

3. Consider Placing a Credit Freeze

For even stronger protection, you may want to place a credit freeze on your credit reports to restrict all access. This will prevent identity thieves from opening any new credit accounts in your name while the freeze is in place. Note that you will have to proactively lift the freeze when you want lenders to check your credit for new applications.

4. Report the Crime to the FTC

Reporting identity theft to the FTC provides an official record with the federal government. You can file a complaint online or by phone at or 1-877-438-4338. This also entitles you to certain rights that can aid recovery. Make sure to keep a copy of your FTC identity theft report.

5. File a Report with the Police

You should file a police report about the identity theft with your local law enforcement agency. Get a copy of the official report, called an "identity theft affidavit." Creditors, lenders, and the credit bureaus will need the report to remove fraudulent accounts and information from your records.

6. Report Suspicious Tax Filings to the IRS

If you find any signs of tax identity theft, immediately contact the IRS to report identity fraud. Ask them to place alerts on your account that flag any potentially fraudulent returns going forward. Provide an IRS ID Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) available on their site.

7. Monitor and Correct Medical Records

Look over your full medical records and request corrections for any inaccuracies due to medical identity theft. Provide healthcare providers with copies of your identity theft report to validate the changes. Closely monitor your records and health statements for further misuse.

8. Enroll in Identity Theft Protection

Sign up for a credit monitoring service that will keep ongoing watch across your credit reports, bank accounts, credit cards, and the dark web. This will ensure no stone goes unturned if your identity theft case remains unresolved. Services like IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit also provide insurance and restoration assistance.

Key Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

While detecting identity theft quickly limits the damage, stopping it before it starts is obviously the best defense. Here are some key tips to better safeguard your sensitive information and reduce the risk of identity thieves targeting you in the first place:

  • Only carry essential documents with you as needed, rather than routinely toting your Social Security card, passport, or other identity documents in your purse or wallet.
  • Shred or destroy any papers containing your personal details before discarding them, including credit card offers, old utility bills, or bank statements.
  • Never disclose your full Social Security number, account numbers, or other sensitive personal information over the phone, email, or text unless you initiated the contact and are certain of the other party.
  • Shop only on secure sites that encrypt your data at checkout when making online purchases. Look for the "https://" in the URL and a lock symbol.
  • Use strong, unique passwords for each online account. Avoid obvious passwords that could easily be guessed. Enable two-factor authentication for an added layer of login protection.
  • Limit use of public Wi-Fi networks for accessing sensitive accounts. Your data can be more easily intercepted on open hotspots. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to enhance security.
  • Closely monitor all your financial statements and explainations of benefits every month to look for any unauthorized transactions or activities. Being vigilant is key to catching fraud early.
  • Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls asking for your personal information. Avoid answering phone calls from unknown numbers.
  • Opt out of pre-approved credit card and insurance offers to lower your risk of mail and identity theft. You can opt out at
  • Parents should consider freezing children‘s credit reports to guard against child identity theft. It blocks thieves from accessing their unused Social Security numbers and clean credit profiles.

FAQs: Checking for Identity Theft

What are some early warning signs that my identity may be stolen?

Common early signs of potential identity theft include accounts or charges on your statements that you don‘t recognize, errors on medical bills to your health plan, new credit inquiries on your credit report from unfamiliar companies, bills or notices that don‘t arrive when expected, and calls from debt collectors about debts not yours.

How often should I check my credit reports for identity theft?

It‘s generally wise to check your credit reports at least once every 3-4 months. During the pandemic you can access weekly online reports for free which makes monitoring easier. Some financial experts recommend checking your reports even more frequently to spot fraud – perhaps monthly or every 6 weeks.

Where can I check if my identity has been stolen for free?

You can check key areas like your credit reports at, your Social Security earnings record at, and account statements without needing to pay anything. Free services like Credit Karma also monitor your credit and highlight suspicious activity.

What identity theft protection services do you recommend?

Top-rated identity protection services include LifeLock, IdentityForce, IDShield, IdentityIQ, and Complete ID. Compare the features, pricing, and restoration support to choose the most complete monitoring and insurance protection. Services that monitor financial accounts, credit, public records, payday loan apps, and other data provide robust protection.

Should I hire a credit repair company to help fix identity theft issues?

You can generally repair identity theft damage yourself by filing disputes with each credit bureau and reporting fraud to companies where it occurred. Save your money – credit repair agencies can‘t typically do much more than you can, and it avoids sharing your personal information. However, services like MyIDCare provide expert guidance on full recovery.

Final Thoughts

I hope this overview gives you greater confidence to be proactive about monitoring your identity and catching any suspicious misuse of your information early. While identity theft can certainly happen, there are now better resources than ever to check for warning signs and restrict the impacts. Don‘t let fear of identity theft stop you from living your life. Just make monitoring and protecting your identity part of your regular financial hygiene alongside reviewing your monthly statements and getting annual credit reports. I wish you the best in keeping your identity secure.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.