How to Check for Identity Theft

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Identity theft can create a financial nightmare. It happens when someone uses your personal information to do things without your consent—like access your money, open credit accounts or file a tax return in your name. In 2023, the Federal Trade Commission received over 1 million reports of this type of fraud. Knowing how to check for identity theft can help you spot potential fraud and take action sooner rather than later.

How to Check for Identity Theft

Here are some simple ways to check if your identity has been stolen.

1. Review Your Credit Reports

It's a good habit to check your credit reports at least once a year. Doing so could help you:

  • Discover identity theft: If you have credit accounts in your name, you should have a credit report with each of the major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Each report lists your open accounts, current balances and payment history. Take notice of unfamiliar accounts or debt balances that are higher than expected—those could be warning signs of identity theft. You can check your credit report for free with Experian or through
  • Improve your financial health: The information contained in your credit report determines your credit score, which is an important part of your financial health. When you apply for new credit, lenders will consider your credit score to help them make a decision. Checking your credit report allows you to review your credit file and make a plan for improving your score.

2. Check Your Bank Statements

Reviewing your bank statements is another way to check for identity theft. This involves looking over your transaction history on your debit and credit cards, which can be a regular part of managing your budget. Pay attention to suspicious activity like:

  • Pending or approved transactions you don't recognize
  • Charges that seem higher than they should be
  • Unfamiliar ATM withdrawals or bank transfers

It's wise to check your statements at least once a month. If you notice any unauthorized activity, notify your bank immediately.

3. Pay Attention to Strange Mail

If someone gets ahold of your personal identifiable information (PII), they could use it to rack up charges in your name. Receiving bills for accounts you don't recognize is a red flag that your identity has been compromised.

Unpaid accounts could eventually be sent to third-party agencies that collect debt on behalf of creditors. Debt collectors might also reach out by phone or email. Contact the company that sent the bill to get more information, and check your credit report to see if the account appears there.

4. Stay on Top of Your Tax Returns

Tax identity theft happens when someone files a tax return in your name in an attempt to steal your tax refund. If you try to file a legitimate return but can't because one has already been processed, your identity may have been stolen. One way fraudsters do this is by calling consumers and posing as IRS representatives. They might ask for personal information, demand payment for "overdue taxes" or request bank information for your tax refund.

5. Check Your Medical Statements

This includes medical bills from providers and explanations of benefits from your health insurance carrier. Be on the lookout for medical services you don't recognize. Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to receive medical treatment in your name. That can include everything from office visits and lab work to imaging and prescriptions.

6. Review Your Social Security Statements

If your personal information gets into the wrong hands, someone could apply for Social Security benefits in your name. They could also use your private data to apply for other government benefits. Warning signs of Social Security fraud include:

  • Inaccurate Social Security earnings statements
  • Notifications from the Social Security Administration that feel strange or unexpected
  • The inability to access certain government benefits because your Social Security number is already being used to claim them

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

There are many different types of identity theft—and criminals have found creative ways to steal personal information. That could happen if:

  • Your wallet is stolen.
  • You've left sensitive documents in the trash without shredding them.
  • Someone you know uses your personal information without your knowledge (known as familiar fraud).
  • Someone intercepts your mail.
  • You use unsecured public Wi-Fi networks to do banking or online shopping.
  • Someone calls you posing as a government official who needs your personal information.
  • Your private information is involved in a data breach.

Learn more >> How Does Identity Theft Happen?

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

  • Create strong passwords. Be sure not to use the same password more than once. Also consider using multifactor authentication and password-protecting your devices.
  • Never share your personal information. Remember that the IRS and the Social Security Administration won't call you and demand that you share sensitive information over the phone. This is a common fraud tactic.
  • Be careful using public Wi-Fi. Only use secure, trusted networks, especially when banking or shopping online. Using a virtual private network (VPN) can help safeguard your personal information.
  • Keep personal documents in a safe place. Securely store your Social Security card, tax documents and financial records—and be mindful of whom you share this location with.

Learn more >> How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

It isn't always possible to prevent identity theft, but there are steps you can take to set things right.

  • Contact the companies affected by the fraud. If fraudulent charges are made with your credit card, federal law limits your liability to $50—though many credit card issuers have zero-liability policies. Debit card liability protection typically depends on how soon you report the fraud. If it's within two days, your liability is capped at $50. That number jumps to $500 if you report the loss between two and 60 days. If you wait longer than that, you could be responsible for the full amount.
  • Change your PINs and passwords. Choose unique passwords you haven't used before—even for accounts that haven't been affected by identity theft—or consider using a password manager. If your personal information is out there, you'll want to be proactive about protecting your identity.
  • Freeze your credit. You have the right to freeze your credit report, which prohibits creditors from pulling your report in connection with a credit application. This effectively blocks criminals from opening new accounts in your name. You also have the right to set up a fraud alert, which instructs lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity before processing new credit applications. Both options are free.
  • Dispute any fraudulent activity on your credit reports. You have the right to dispute information on your credit report, and finding items you believe to be fraudulent is a good reason to do so. Each credit bureau has its own process for correcting inaccuracies found on your credit report. Doing so can help repair any damage that's been done to your credit score.
  • Formally report the fraud. Reporting identity theft can unlock resources and support while you remedy the situation. The FTC's provides detailed instructions. You might also choose to file a police report if you're hoping to catch the perpetrator.

The Bottom Line

There are multiple ways to check if your identity has been stolen. Adopting these strategies could help you discover fraudulent activity before things get worse. Staying on top of your credit is a simple but powerful way to protect your financial health. Free credit monitoring with Experian makes this part easy. You'll get a heads up whenever something new appears on your credit report and can review your credit report and score whenever you like.

Learn More About Identity Theft