Identity theft is big business. And if you have been paying attention you probably know that data theft is exploding globally, especially so in the U.S. According to the Identity Theft and Resource Center and CyberScout data breaches have hit 791 incidents in the first half of 2017 alone. Up 29 percent from last year.
Lets talk money. Last year over 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft. For the crooks that pulled in a staggering $16 billion. According to an Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research, since 2011 identity thieves have stolen $107 billion from U.S. consumers.
African-American consumers are as vulnerable as any other Americans to identity theft. But here is the problem. Many data breaches are not reported for days and even months sometimes. Is that against the law? Not exactly. Sometimes law enforcement will ask the company not to publicly disclose the breach as part of the investigation. So, as I always say, your cyber security is your responsibility.
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
The answer to that question is, it’s hard to tell without constant vigilance. The bottom line is that you have to be on the lookout for not only the obvious signs but subtle clues as well. Again, you are responsible for your cyber security and your money. Don’t expect banks or credit card companies to do all the work. Yeah, they have algorithms that can spot unusual transactions but they are not perfect by any means. Here are some clues you need to be alert for.
- Monitor your mail. Are your bills and other mail failing to arrive as usual? This maybe an indication that your identity has been compromised and the thief has changed your mailing address. Cyber crooks are smarter than you think. You maybe getting some mail but the crook has re-directed items like your bank statement or credit card bills. If bills are late follow up with creditors as soon as possible.
- You’re turned down for credit. If you apply for credit and denied or you try to increase your credit limit and are rejected without good reason you need to be suspicious. Especially if you have excellent credit. Being denied credit or being offered credit with a high-interest rate is a sign your identity may have been compromised. Take the time to contact the creditor to discuss what the problem is.
- Mysterious bills for items you didn’t purchase. This is a good sign that your identity has been compromised. Especially bills that come from collection agencies. You should contact the creditor immediately and inform them that you have been a victim of identity theft and it is not your debt. Report the situation to the police and your legitimate creditors and all three credit agencies as soon as possible. Also place a freeze on your credit to protect yourself from further damage. Some creditors will persist with collection efforts and even place negative information on your credit report. Write letters and keep good records. You need to establish communication and a paper trail to protect yourself.
- Monitor accounts for fraudulent transactions. Regularly check all your credit accounts for fraud. This includes brokerage accounts. Immediately challenge any charges or changes you cannot identify as yours. Look for test charges. Thieves will charge a dollar or two on a credit card or debit card to see it if it will go through. Don’t ignore these if you find them. File a police report and demand that the fraudulent activity be stopped and the institution reimburse you for any losses. As a victim of identity theft you have rights. Check IdentityTheft.gov to learn more.
- Your taxes. You need to be especially alert in this area. Millions of African-Americans file their tax returns electronically every year. If your tax return is rejected act immediately! Your return was probably rejected because the thief has filed a tax return in your name and stolen your refund. Also, be alert for a tax refund you were not expecting or do not qualify for. This is another red flag. Has a tax transcript arrived in the mail you did not request? It’s possible that a cyber criminal was attempting to download your tax information and failed a security test. The IRS then mailed the transcript to you believing you requested it. Anytime your taxes are concerned you need to be alarmed.
- Someone files for unemployment using your name and Social Security Number. If a hacker gets a hold of your Social Security number and the name of your current employer they may attempt to collect unemployment benefits in your name. You may get a call from your company HR depart that something is amiss. Social media, Facebook, is a good place for thief to look to see if you recently changed jobs or quit. Using this information they file for unemployment benefits. You are clueless until you get a nasty letter from your former employer or the unemployment agency.
- Your credit score goes up. Strangely this could be a clue that something is happening with your identity. Check your credit reports frequently for new accounts you didn’t open or credit inquiries which could reveal that cyber thieves are trying to get credit in your name.
- Direct mail and phone solicitations. Are you suddenly getting catalogs and offers from companies you never do business with. Or phone calls from marketers? You could have ended up on that mailing or phone list because someone is shopping with your credit card at expensive stores.You may get calls from car dealers, calls for loans and home improvement, or high end retail catalogs. You may be the victim of a high priced shopping spree on one or more of your credit accounts.
Now you know.