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Signs of Identity Theft

(Follow the Trail)

How many online accounts do you have right now? Consider not just your email, social media, bank accounts, credit cards and insurance, but your streaming services, utilities companies, retail store loyalty cards, online shopping sites, that old blog you forgot about from 5 years ago … It would be nearly impossible to keep track of every account you’ve ever opened unless you’ve been diligent about closing them and deleting historical data. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the company or organization itself doesn’t still have your personal info stored in their archives.

What makes it even riskier is that most of us reuse the same passwords on multiple sites. This means that if one of your accounts is hacked or there is a data breach at your school, workplace or favorite store, thieves could cascade through your financial life like an avalanche — not only causing you inconvenience in the moment, but potential long-term effects to your credit report, damaging your financial reputation for years to come.

If there’s one (sort of) silver lining, it’s that we are all in this together. Millions of Americans each year are victims of identity theft. The government, social media sites and large online companies are working hard to come up with better ways to protect our data. Until then, you are your own best protection. No one is better equipped than you to guard your own identity.

Here are 5 signs your identity might have been stolen.

  1. Purchases you didn’t make. Regularly check your bank statements, credit cards and online accounts for anything you don’t recognize. It’s far more likely now for thieves to take over your existing accounts (such as Amazon) than it is for them to steal your actual credit card.
  1. Bills that don’t come (or strange bills that do). If you still get paper bills and statements mailed to you and they stop arriving, someone might have changed the address on your account without your knowledge. Likewise, if you get a bill for an unknown account, thieves might have used your information to create a fake account. Also watch for denials of credit that you didn’t initiate. Consider opting out of prescreened credit card offers to limit the risk of someone stealing them out of your mailbox.
  2. Unrecognized details on your credit report. Incorrect information, such as accounts and addresses you don’t recognize are a red flag, as are credit inquiries such as loans you didn’t apply for.
  3. Mysterious medical records. If your insurance company shows procedures you didn’t request or if you’re denied services because they claim you’ve already reached your limit, but you know you haven’t, thieves could be charging treatments to your insurance.
  4. Multiple tax returns. If you try to file your taxes, but the IRS says you’ve already submitted a return for the year, thieves likely used your Social Security number to get a refund. File early to prevent delaying or even missing out on your real refund. If you have kids, check around their 16th birthday to be sure they don’t already have a Social Security account. It can be an unwelcome surprise to find out that your credit has been damaged by someone else before you’re old enough to use it yourself.


Some signs of identity theft are impossible to miss. You’ll know if you’re hit with ransomware because thieves will freeze your computer, sometimes even posting a scary image — such as a creepy clown or something from a horror movie — and lock you out of your own files until you pay them a ransom.

These malicious viruses often come through links or attachments you clicked in email or online, but sometimes you don’t even have to click anything. Just visiting a website that’s been infected with a ransomware virus could put you in danger. If you are a victim of ransomware, don’t pay right away. There are decryption keys for many known viruses and you often can negotiate for lower ransom.


If your identity is stolen, don’t assume your credit is ruined. There are many steps you can take to clear your name and rebuild your reputation. Many people just like you have been through it before and, if you catch it within a reasonable amount of time, you won’t be responsible for fraudulent charges.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]