More than 17.5 million U.S. residents had their identities stolen in 2014, according to the federal government's Bureau of Justice Statistics. But types of identity theft vary greatly, and so does the potential impact on the victim.
Roughly 8.6 million people in 2014 had their credit card numbers stolen, a crime that rarely results in a financial loss to the victim. About 8.1 million people experienced bank-account fraud — forged checks, phony ATM withdrawals or fraudulent debit-card charges — crimes in which the victim often has only two business days to report to avoid liability.
About 3.2 million people suffered more serious kinds of identity theft in 2014. Their names were used to open new financial accounts, get fake IDs, steal tax refunds or government benefits, and even avoid arrest on criminal charges. (Many individuals reported more than one kind of identity theft.)
Victims of serious identity theft often pay for it. About 1.2 million people suffered losses of $100 or more in 2014, and about 340,000 lost more than $1,000. Others may have had loans or leases denied due to bad credit. A few may have ended up with warrants for crimes they didn't commit.
In all cases of identity theft, it's best to find out about it early. The damage will be minimized, and there will be a greater chance the miscreants will be caught. Here are 11 ways to tell if someone's stolen your identity.
It's always embarrassing when the cashier tells you that your credit card has been declined. But it might not be your fault. Call the customer-service number on the back of the card and ask why the card was declined. It could be that fraudulent charges have maxed out your credit limit or placed an alert on the card.
Check your bank balances every week or so. If you see withdrawals, cashed checks or debit-card purchases you don't recognize, someone might be forging checks in your name, or might have cloned your debit card. If so, contact the bank immediately: Debit-card holders have only two business days to do so, or they may be liable for some of the fraudulent charges.
You didn't stay at that hotel in the Bahamas, and you didn't have the power turned on at that vacation cabin you don't own. So why are you getting threatening letters over lack of payment for strange items or services? Because someone is out there impersonating you. Call the bill collectors to see what's going on, then file an identity-fraud report with your local police precinct.
At AnnualCreditReport.com, you can get a free credit report every four months from one of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Look for unfamiliar accounts. If anything's amiss, contact one of the three agencies — Equifax (1-888-766-0008), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-800-680-7289) — right away and ask to put a credit alert on your file. The alert will last for 90 days and will affect all three agencies.
Then, contact the company with which you have the false account and inform them of the situation, documenting as much as you can in writing. You may also have to file a police report — it's often the first step in restoring your identity.
If the IRS says you made a lot more money than you reported on your tax return, someone may be illegally using your Social Security number so that they can work. Reply to the IRS in writing, fill out and submit an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit and get ready to submit to an audit.
If you have good credit, you'll get a lot of credit-card applications in the mail. But someone else could fill out an application to get a new card in your name, then steal it from your mailbox when it arrives. Call the card issuer, then file a police report.
Sometimes the thieves don't steal the newly issued card out of your mailbox in time. Call the card issuer, make sure there are no charges on the card, cancel the card and keep an eye out for shifty neighbors.