Stay alert: Signs that someone’s trying to steal your identity

One of the worst things about identity theft is that it can happen without your knowledge. But if you stay vigilant, you can stop a thief – or at least minimize the damage they do. Here are some warning signs to watch out for to guard against identity theft.

1. Suspicious charges on your bank account and credit card statements.An identity thief who gets access to your bank account will sometimes make a withdrawal to see if you notice. If there’s no response, they can drain it quickly. If you see mystery charges or withdrawals you don’t recognize, call your credit union or bank immediately. Keep an eye on your credit card statements, too; unexpected charges are often the earliest warning that something’s not right.

2. Inconsistencies in your credit report. If your credit score takes a dramatic dive for no apparent reason, it can be a dead giveaway that someone is using your identity. Check your score on occasion, and if it changes significantly, get to the bottom of it right away. Do the same if you see debts or new accounts pop up that you don’t recognize.

3. Missing or unexpected mail. Whether it’s unexpected deliveries or missing bills, it’s amazing how many red flags are tied to your mailbox. Here are some mail-related woes to watch out for:

  • Missing bills, especially credit card statements
  • Notifications from the IRS that more than one return was filed in your name
  • Notices about data breaches – companies are required to notify you if there’s a data breach that could compromise your account
  • Unexpected mail, such as a change of address notice from the post office when you’re not planning to move
  • Bills from accounts you didn’t open
  • Items you didn’t order show up at your door


Bonus tip: Take paper out of the equation. A lot of mail-related mishaps can be avoided by signing up for e-statements from your credit union or other institution. Go online or talk to a representative to find out what options are available to you.


4. You’re declined credit. If you apply for a credit card or a loan and get turned down because of bad credit you didn’t think you had, that’s a good time to ask for your credit report. (It’s free if you get turned down, but you have to access the report within 60 days.) Ask the credit union or other institution why you were declined – get as many details as possible and act accordingly.

5. Calls from a debt collector. If you get a phone call or message from a debt collection agency, don’t just assume that they have the wrong person and ignore it. Instead, talk to the collector to find out the nature of the debt – you might find that someone fraudulently opened an account in your name and skipped out on the tab.

In any of these cases, be sure to speak up sooner rather than later to the appropriate company/retailer or financial institution – and consider checking your credit score right away, so you’ll have something to compare to if an unexpected change occurs down the road.

Beware! Signs of identity theft:


  • Missing mail, or unexpected bills
  • Unexpected or drastic changes to your credit score
  • Charges you don’t recognize to your bank account or credit card
  • Reports of data breaches
  • Denied credit applications
  • Calls from debt collectors

For more suggestions on how to protect yourself from identity theft, see our article on simple steps to help protect your data and download the Essential ID Theft Checklist if you’ve been targeted by identity thieves.