How to Spot the Warning Signs of Identity Theft

Monitoring your bank statements and credit reports is only the start.

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You receive unexpected mail. You might get a notice from the post office that your mail is being forwarded to another address, without having requested the address change. Or you receive a letter with respect to an account that you never opened. Other mailings that could be a sign of identity theft: You receive a credit card in the mail that you never applied for, or the IRS notifies you about unreported wage income that you didn't earn.

You find errors in your Social Security statement. If you receive your statement and see that the earnings reported are greater than your actual earnings in a given year, someone might have stolen your Social Security number and be using it for wage reporting services, Stephens says.

[See Don't Toss It! 5 New Tips for Your 401(k) Statement.]

You're denied an application based on your credit. If you have good credit but are denied an application for, say, a new credit card or a loan, that may be an indication that your identity has been stolen.

You can't access your email. You attempt to access your email but find that your username and password have been changed without your knowledge, or a similar scenario happens for another online account. "That can be a sign that someone is covering their tracks for an identity-theft operation," Stephens says.

If you're a victim of financial identity theft, the first thing to do is contact your bank or financial institution. You should then conduct a full audit of your personal finances and identify any questionable transactions, recommends Rob Rachwald of data security firm Imperva. This information will be useful when it comes time to dispute the charges.

Stalcup worked with his bank to identify the perpetrator's charges, and the bank reimbursed him in full. As was his experience, the earlier you catch identity theft, the better.