8 Warning Signs of Identity Theft (and How to Fight Back)

Data hacks can leave you vulnerable to cybercriminals. Laura covers 8 warning signs to watch for and how to fight back if you become a victim of identity theft. Plus, she answers questions on a variety of topics including protecting kids’ credit, signing up for credit monitoring, and placing security alerts on your credit files. 

Laura Adams, MBA
10-minute read
Episode #514

5. Calls from collectors about medical bills that aren’t yours.

Medical fraud happens when someone you don’t know uses your identity or insurance to get services or products from doctors, dentists, or hospitals. Getting calls from collectors or receiving medical bills that you don’t recognize means a criminal got services and is trying to stick you with the bill.

Fight back: Contact each company or provider who billed you and explain the situation. Ask to see your medical records and make sure any fraudulent diagnosis or treatment is removed. Report medical fraud to the FTC.

6. Missing bills and financial statements from your snail mail.

If you typically get bills and bank statements in the U.S. mail, but stop receiving them unexpectedly, that could be a sign that a criminal has hijacked your mailing address. If they redirect your mail or steal it from your mailbox, it’s less likely that you’ll notice the fraud they’re trying to get away with.

Fight back: Contact the post office and any billers that have gone missing to report the fraud. Then check your credit reports.

7. Notice about maxed out government benefits.

A thief could use your identity to apply for various government assistance programs, such as food assistance, unemployment, disability, or Social Security benefits. Your child’s identity could also be used to qualify for free meals at a public school, claim Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, or to get medical services.

This fraud could happen even if you don’t receive any government benefits. And if you do need them in the future, you could be denied because records would mistakenly show that you’re already claiming them.

Fight back: Report the fraud to the appropriate government agency, notify the policy, and file an identity theft report with the FTC. Then check your credit reports.

8. Your income tax refund never arrives.

Tax return fraud is a growing problem that happens when a thief files a fake return in your name to steal a refund you may be owed. After you file your return, you could receive notification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that more than one return was submitted in your name.

Fight back: Contact the IRS, notify the police, file an identity theft report with the FTC, and check your reports. You still need to file your state and federal tax returns and pay any amounts owed even if your identity was stolen.

If you suspect that your personal information is in jeopardy or know you’re an identity theft victim, you should place a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit files to prevent further exposure.

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How to Prevent Child Identity Theft

I also received several questions about how to keep kids safe. Did you know that children are over 50 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than adults? Unfortunately, it can be easy for a dishonest family member or friend with access to their personal records to steal their information.

Most parents are clueless that their child is a victim until he or she tries to get a driver’s license, mobile phone, or gets turned down for a student loan or job.

Most parents are clueless that their child is a victim until he or she tries to get a driver’s license, mobile phone, or gets turned down for a student loan or job. By then, it’s difficult to clear up problems, like a botched credit report, debt, or even a criminal record that’s existed for many years in your child’s name.

Question: Amy S. says, “Thanks for your timely and thorough podcast on the Equifax breach. Do you recommend the same steps for checking credit reports on our teenage children even if they don’t have loans or credit histories?”

Answer: Thanks for asking, Amy. Yes, you absolutely need to get in the habit of checking your kids’ credit files when you check your own at sites like annualcreditreport.com, Credit Karma, and Credit Sesame.

The credit bureaus require you to verify that you’re a child’s parent or legal guardian by providing proof of your address and copies of your identification, your child’s birth certificate, and your child’s Social Security card.

If you have an older child who’s been set up as an authorized user on a credit card or has their own car or student loan, then he or she would have a credit file. But if your young child has a credit report, he or she is likely an identity theft victim. Having a credit file means a thief used their information to open credit accounts.

If your child is an identity theft victim, place a fraud alert or a security freeze on his or her file. Then notify the police and file a report with the FTC.

See also: Identity Theft and Your Wallet—7 Items to Purge Now

Question: Travis H. says, “We’re a military family and relocate a lot. To my surprise, when my son was only three years old, we started receiving snail mail in his name from advertisers. He’s almost five now and the Equifax situation has renewed my fear for his future. How do I protect my son’s identity from theft?”

Answer: Thanks for your question, Travis. If you haven’t already checked to see if your son has fraudulent credit reports, I’d do that immediately.

Just like you can’t protect yourself from every type of potential identity theft, you can’t completely protect your child identity from theft. However, here are five tips to help keep children safe from identity theives:

  1. Watch out for mail addressed to your child. Receiving any type of mail, but especially preapproved credit card or insurance offers, in your child’s name is a red flag that credit accounts could have been opened using their personal information.
  2. Watch out for debt collectors asking for your child. If a thief opened a credit card or took out a loan in your child’s name, they certainly didn’t pay the bill. So collectors are likely to track you down by mail or phone.
  3. Never give out your child’s Social Security number. While many organizations ask for a child’s Social Security number, few really need it. Push back and find out whether it’s necessary and how the number will be used and protected.
  4. Lock up your child’s identity documents. Documents with personal data, such as birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, and wills should be kept in a bank safe deposit box or a locked, fire-proof safe.
  5. Teach children to keep their personal information secret. As kids get older, they need to know that their name, address, phone numbers, email, passwords, and Social Security number should never be shared.

See also: Best Tips to Improve Your Credit Score


About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a frequent, trusted source for the national media. Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers is her newest title. Laura's previous book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.