You're you. You know your age, date of birth, where you went to school, which hospital you attended for a broken arm, and the date of your graduation. No one else should know this information.
But now they do. Your identity has been stolen. You're at risk of ID fraud. What can you do about it? How can you even tell if your ID has been stolen?
If you monitor your finances regularly, you should be able to spot the signs of identity theft. But what are they?
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1. Your credit or bank account bill stops coming
Once a month, your bills land on the doormat, or you collect them from your mailbox. That's if you haven't gone paperless.
But one day, you notice your bills haven't come. There's nothing on the doormat, or the email inbox. You bills have been diverted.
If your identity has been stolen, a perpetrator intending to make the most of your financial situation will take steps to protect themselves from discovery for as long as possible. One way to do this is to ensure your credit card bill or bank statement is intercepted. This is achieved by grabbing the letters from the postman, mailbox, or telling the bank you've changed your address.
2. A debt collector calls about an account you didn't open
Everyone dreads a call from the debt collectors, not least those who haven't borrowed anything.
But if you've had your identity stolen and ID fraud has been committed with your personal data, this call is almost inevitable. Unfortunately, it's not likely to come until a couple of defaults have been made, which means your ID thief has been enjoying the fruit of your labours for around three months.
Fortunately, it's not all bad news. Debt collectors have steps they can take in the event of suspected identity theft. The wheels can be put in motion to reclaim your identity, but it will take time.
3. You're unexpectedly refused credit
You've been saving for a deposit on a house for months. Or you've spotted a new car that you want to buy. Maybe you just want a new iPhone.
But when you apply for credit, you're refused. How can this be? Well, the answer is simple - the maximum credit available to you has already been agreed.
Someone has been claiming to be you. Your identity has been stolen, your financial life ransacked, and every penny you could borrow has been stolen. You wouldn't have known if you hadn't applied for credit.
This is one of the most common ways to discover identity theft. It's also one of the most devastating, throwing all of your plans into disarray. It's another good reason to pay attention to your bank statements.
4. Your credit report refers to checks and loans you didn't apply for
Having regular access to your credit report is a great way to oversee your loans and debts. You get an idea of how much is left on each commitment, helping you to plan for future expenditure.
Your credit report will also highlight any credit checks made in your name. But what if you didn't apply for anything? Why would checks have been made?
Sometimes its completely innocent. A "soft check" might have been made, perhaps when switching to a new energy provider. Surprising, but not unusual. Full credit checks, on the other hand, point to identity theft. Someone has stolen your ID and is using it to borrow money in your name. Perhaps they're buying a car. It might be a house. Or just a large sum of money to withdraw and disappear with.
5. You're billed for medical treatment you didn't receive or need
Medical fraud is on the increase, a growth industry for con artists, scammers, and identity thieves.
When the bill drops and you find you've been billed for a service you didn't use, that should be a massive red flag that something is wrong. Then again, you might not bother to check your medical provider's bill if you haven't been unwell…
But what if you have been sick, or required treatment for a broken bone? You submit a medical claim only to find you've hit your benefits limit. Someone has been there before you, using your insurance to pay for treatment.
What to do after a data breach
As if these signs weren't bad enough, there is something else that you need to be aware of. Company data breaches are big news, in some cases millions of user records are leaked at any time. The impact of this is that personal data - some of which might be yours - is available to buy and sell on the Dark Web.
Banks, card companies, PayPal, Facebook, and other sites with large databases of customers and users have been hit by data breaches. While not a tell-tale sign your ID has been stolen, it's certainly an indicator than your identity is on the market.
So, whenever you hear about data breaches, it's a good idea to follow up. Get in touch with the company that has been breached and seek assurances about your personal details. If there is money attached to the account, it should be covered, but get confirmation of that.
Additionally, it's worth using the service Have I Been Pwned to check for any other breaches your data might have been involved in.
How can I find out if someone is using my identity?
There is one easy way to find out if someone is using your identity: wait for your bank account to empty, your credit card to max out, or a new loan to be taken out in your name.
But don't wait for that to happen. Use credit monitoring tools from Experian and other credit reference agencies to check for unauthorised applications in your name. Check that your bank or credit card company offers SMS alerts for unusual spending patterns. You should also check social media accounts to ensure you don't have a digital twin.
- Also check out our complete list of the best identity theft protection