Columns
November 21, 2017
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Finance

Ken Weise
Has your identity been stolen? ­­Keep an eye out for these signs
November 17, 2017

As NBC News notes, identity theft hit 15.4 million Americans last year. Perhaps it hit you. You know you have been victimized when you get that courtesy call or email from a bank or credit card issuer, but is there a way you can tell prior to that moment?

There are definite warning signs of cybercrime. Watching out for them just might save you money and headaches. If you notice any of the following conditions, pay attention.

Odd little charges appear on your credit card. Big charges are of course a giveaway, but criminals might first venture some little charges. This often happens when more sophisticated identity thieves buy or obtain credit or debit card numbers through syndicates or online forums (they do exist).

You stop getting credit or debit card statements. A thief may have changed the billing address. What time of the month do these bills arrive? Knowing when may alert you to something fishy. 

Unexpected packages show up at your home or office. “I didn’t order a new PC,” you react when the truck pulls up at your door. Well, maybe a thief did and forgot to change the default shipping address on your online profile at a retailer.   

Weird calls and emails enter your life. Your friends get spam in their inboxes; you get calls from debt collection agencies. At first, you may categorize the calls as simple mistakes and apologize for the spam, but all this may indicate crime.

Your loan applications get rejected. Your credit score can plunge due to a thief’s extravagance and nonchalance. If you can’t get a loan or your credit report shows a plunging score, something may be up.

Victimization can be quite subtle. Some identity thieves never progress to shopping sprees or draining bank balances. They have other goals in mind, just as ignoble.

Some people steal personal information to hide from creditors. They would like to put your address or phone number on assorted financial, federal and state documents for purposes of evasion as well as future opportunity. If you suspect this may be happening, file a police report (you may have to be persistent about this, but do it), and contact the departments of banks, businesses and governmental agencies that investigate fraud and cybercrimes. When it comes to Social Security fraud, that means the Office of the Inspector General. If you are the victim of mail fraud, get in touch with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. At your state motor vehicle department, that means connecting with a fraud investigator.2

 Good news: federal tax refund identity theft has fallen nearly 50%. The Internal Revenue Service received 107,000 reports of it during January-May 2017, down from 204,000 cases in January-May 2016. The agency credits the use of better filters in its software and new limits on the number of refunds that can be sent to one bank account.