There are many signs of identity theft—some are subtle while others are bold and immediately noticeable. Having your identity stolen can mean losing money, losing financial opportunities like new jobs or loans, and losing your sense of security. But understanding the signs of identity theft is one important step toward reducing the risks, along with protecting your identity using an identity protection service like LifeLock Standard.
In 2022 alone , the Federal Trade Commission recorded more than 1.1 million reports of identity theft in the United States, and identity theft and scams accounted for an $8.8 billion loss for consumers that year. If you want to reduce the likelihood of having your identity stolen, look for these common signs of identity theft:
- Unexplained financial activity
- Unexpected decline of credit applications
- Missing mail and suspicious address changes
- Unfamiliar accounts or loans
- Inaccurate credit report
- Unexpected debt collection calls
- Social Security number (SSN) misuse
- Unusual medical bills or insurance activity
- Strange emails, phone calls, and text messages
- Drastic drop in credit score
- Difficulty accessing online accounts
- Unexplained background check results
- Personal information disclosure
- Investment scams
- Returned payments
- Maxed-out insurance benefits
- Missing tax refunds
- Utilities are shut off
- Strange packages arrive
- Random log-in notifications
- An online account page has changed recently
- Incorrect purchase verification calls
- The government denies benefits
Let’s take a look at some of 2024’s biggest warning signs of identity theft.
If you notice unauthorized withdrawals from any of your bank accounts or you find credit card charges you didn’t make, it could be a sign of identity theft. Pay close attention to your accounts because many thieves will start by making small deposits and withdrawals before making large charges. Credit card fraud can take longer to notice, so check those accounts at least a couple of times every month.
One sign your identity may have been stolen is that you are denied credit you should qualify for. People who steal your identity may use that information to open new accounts. They’ll then run up charges on those accounts and not pay them, further lowering your credit score. You may also receive rejection letters or emails for cards or loans you didn’t apply for.
If you haven’t been receiving the mail you normally get every month, it could be a sign of identity theft. Yes, your identity can be stolen with only a name and address—a thief may have stolen the mail directly from your mailbox to access your personal information, or they could have changed your address to receive more of your data or intercept packages they ordered in your name.
If you receive an email or letter about a new account at a store you don’t shop at or from a loan provider discussing the terms of a loan you didn’t apply for, it could be a sign that your identity was stolen. Even something as innocuous as a free discount membership could be a sign of theft in progress.
Regularly checking your credit reports isn’t just about keeping an eye on your credit rating; it’s a good way to see if any new credit card accounts or loans have been applied for or taken out in your name. In addition to credit card accounts, your credit report will also show addresses associated with your name, so check to make sure they’re accurate, too. If you see anything suspicious, disputing a credit report error quickly can help limit the damage done to your credit.
While answering phone calls from numbers you don’t know isn’t a great idea, if a caller leaves a message informing you that they’re trying to collect a debt, it could mean that your identity was stolen. Check your credit report to see if there are any accounts you didn’t open. You should also check your insurance claims to make sure someone isn’t using your name and insurance information for medical treatments.
Because your Social Security number can be used to apply for jobs, loans, and even insurance, it’s important to stay vigilant in case of Social Security fraud. If you find out it's been used by someone else, contact the Social Security Administration to have a hold placed on your SSN. You can also contact the Office of the Inspector General to report the fraud.
Medical identity theft happens when someone uses your personal data to receive medical treatment or money for fraudulent procedures, medications, and equipment. If you see claims that you didn’t submit on your explanation of benefits documents or you receive bills from providers you've never used, it could mean your identity has been stolen.
If you receive a phone call (even a silent phone call), text message, or email from someone claiming to offer a better deal on insurance or an updated Medicare card, don’t give them any personal information. They could be phishing for personally identifiable information (PII) in order to steal your identity. If you think a call is bogus, hang up. You can call the company or organization the person claimed to work for and see if they are legitimate.
A surprising drop in your credit score could mean your identity was stolen, especially if you haven’t applied for or opened any new accounts or if you've racked up a significant amount of debt recently. If a thief obtains your information, they may try to open many accounts (or use the credit card number they’ve stolen) as quickly as possible.
We all forget or mistype a password once in a while, but if you are having a lot of trouble accessing any online account (especially if you know you are using the right password), it might mean someone has gotten into your accounts and changed the password. Using two-factor authentication (2FA) can help reduce the risk of getting locked out of your accounts.
Imagine you apply for a job, have a great interview, and then find out you were disqualified due to a criminal record (when you know you don't have one). Identity thieves can use your PII to create new IDs that they then use in the commission of a crime. If they’re caught, it can end up on your record. Thieves can also use employment-related fraud to avoid paying taxes by attaching their earnings to your name and Social Security number.
Major data breaches are more common than we’d like to think they are. Large retailers, medical institutions, and even schools have been the source of data breaches that expose people’s information. Disclosure laws require companies to report these breaches, but it could be too late—someone may have already stolen or sold your PII.
If you notice changes to your investments that you or your broker didn’t make, it may be because of identity theft. These kinds of unauthorized changes can be devastating for your finances, so it’s a good idea to check these accounts often. If you trade online, change your passwords and set up two-factor authentication to prevent any more changes.
If you receive a phone call or letter from your bank saying that you bounced a check or that a debit card payment didn’t go through even though you should have the money, it might mean your identity has been stolen. Examine the purchases made on your accounts and report any that you didn’t make to your bank as soon as possible. They may temporarily put a hold on your debit cards, and they may change your card number to stop ongoing theft.
Maxing out insurance benefits can be scary, especially when you weren’t the beneficiary of any of the care your insurance paid for. Finding services claimed in your name is a sign of medical identity theft. This kind of theft can happen during a data breach, or it can occur after a scammer successfully phished for information.
Whether you get your taxes prepared by an accountant or tax professional or you do it yourself, not receiving your tax return could mean that someone has compromised your identity and redirected the refund to a different address or account as a part of an IRS scam. If you check with the IRS and they say that your check was mailed and cashed and it wasn’t you, follow up to report the theft.
There are few surprises less fun than waking up to realize your electricity or water has been shut off. It’s even worse when you know that you paid those bills. But if your utilities are shut off even though you had the money to pay them, it could mean the physical checks were intercepted and your identity was stolen, or that a thief gained access to your bank account and drained it before the utility companies could collect the money.
Coming home to find packages waiting on your doorstep is usually exciting, but what does it mean if the packages have someone else’s name on them or they contain something you didn’t order? It could mean someone stole your identity and they either forgot to change your address in your online account or they hoped to scoop up their mail from your home before you noticed. These unordered packages could also be part of a brushing scam, which is a way for companies to pump up their review numbers.
As more people get serious about protecting their identity and personal information online, companies have leaned into providing you with alerts when someone tries to log into an account and fails or is outside of the area you usually log in from. If you’ve ever gotten a confirmation text or email asking you to confirm a new login that you didn’t make, don’t click on the link—it could be a phishing attempt where you’re sent to a dummy site that looks legit. If you enter your login information, the thief now has it. Even if the notification is legitimate, don’t confirm anything from the text or email. Instead, use a different device to log into your account and change the password.
Websites change, but when a financial or medical institution is updating their site, they will often send an email to their customers to let them know that the upcoming changes are real. They do this because some identity thieves will create websites that look similar to existing sites to get people to input their login information. So if you notice a page looks different but you weren’t notified of a change, close the window then try navigating to the site in an incognito window to see if it looks like the old site. You can also call the bank or medical institution to ask if there have been updates to the site.
Most credit card companies and banks work hard to reduce the amount of identity theft and fraud their customers are exposed to. One method is calling a phone number on file to confirm unusual purchases, like a large order from a store you haven’t bought anything from before or a high volume of purchases in a very short period of time. Receiving a call like that could mean your identity has been stolen. For safer online shopping, only visit secured sites.
If you have young children, the last thing you expect to see in the mail is a credit card application with their name on it. While it could be an honest mistake, it might be a sign that someone is trying to steal your child’s identity. Family identity theft is serious—thieves could use their name and information to take out loans and open credit accounts or apply for benefits like insurance.
Tips to reduce the risk of identity theft
While there’s no way to completely prevent identity theft, there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of having your identity stolen. By following some simple steps, you’ll know which situations to avoid and how to check for identity theft.
- Monitor your financial accounts regularly: Look for any unauthorized charges regularly and set up alerts for suspicious activities, login attempts, or changes to your account.
- Check your credit reports: You can request a free credit report from each of the three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) once a year. Keep an eye on your accounts and make sure to report anything suspicious.
- Practice good document security: Get your mail every day to limit the opportunities thieves have to steal it. Shred any documents that have personal information or dispose of them using a service that handles sensitive documents. Secure your important documents like Social Security cards and passports behind lock and key.
- Be careful sharing information online: Don’t share too much information on social media sites. Only visit secure sites that have "https" in the URL. Don’t reuse passwords on multiple sites—a free password manager app like Norton™ Password Manager could be a great way to manage multiple passwords safely.
- Don’t trust unsolicited attempts to contact you: If someone contacts you and asks for personal information, don’t give it to them. Instead, hang up and call the agency or business the caller said they work for to confirm that a request is legitimate.
- Enable and use 2FA: Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security you should use whenever it's available, because it reduces the likelihood of unknown persons accessing your accounts even if they have your password.
- Keep your Social Security number safe: Be very careful of any request to share your Social Security number, and don’t carry your card with you.
- Look for data breaches: Data breaches are big news, so pay attention when one happens to make sure your data hasn’t been compromised. If your data was found in a breach, change your passwords and keep a close eye on your accounts for unauthorized activity.
- Don’t use unsecured or public Wi-Fi: If you need to make a financial transaction in public, stay off unsecured or public Wi-Fi (or at least use a VPN). Set a strong password on your home network and change it several times per year.
- Update your software: The software on your phone, tablet, or computer should be updated as soon as a new version is available—especially operating systems, which play a significant role in protecting your data.
- Educate yourself: Staying informed about the newest identity theft schemes is an important way to limit your exposure. Following the best practices recommended by security experts can help, too.
- Use an identity protection service: Identity protection services like LifeLock Standard not only look for where your information is at risk, but also provide fraud alerts for potential breaches and offer help and support if your identity is stolen. The best identity protection services also cover legal expenses, reimbursements, and more.
Help protect your identity
Learn how to report identity theft so you can protect what you’ve earned by taking the proper precautions. If you’re ready to start placing roadblocks between your data and identity thieves, LifeLock Standard offers protection that millions of people rely on every day.
With 24/7 live support, LifeLock Standard looks after your most important information by monitoring data breaches and the dark web while also providing up to $25,000 in reimbursement for stolen money.
FAQs about signs of identity theft
Have more questions about signs of identity theft? We have answers.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals and then uses personal information that doesn’t belong to them. It can mean stealing a credit card number to make purchases or using a Social Security number to apply for jobs or government benefits. By stealing personal information, thieves can apply for loans or even receive medical care using someone else’s insurance. A victim of identity theft may not know that they’ve been targeted until a lot of damage has already been done.
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
One of the easiest ways to see if your identity has been stolen is to check your credit report for new loan applications or other accounts opened in your name. Identity theft protection services can detect the use of your SSN and other personal information on parts of the web where it shouldn’t be.
Can someone access my bank account with my Social Security number?
If someone only has your SSN, they probably can’t access your bank account. But they may be able to if they also have your account number and some other personal information.
What is the most common method used to steal your identity?
The most common identity theft method is physical theft, in which a thief steals your wallet or purse, or goes through your trash or mail to find your personal information.
Who is most at risk for identity theft?
Children, prolific social media users, people with high incomes, and seniors are the most common identity theft targets.