How to tell if your identity has been stolen

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With major Australian companies experiencing severe security breaches at an alarmingly increased rate over the past few months, it's more important than ever to keep an eye on your identity.

To help with this, today's piece will be broken down into three sections: Signs that your identity has been stolen, what to do if you think your identity has been stolen, and steps to take to prevent identity theft.

Signs that your identity has been stolen

Before we jump into this section, it's important to remember that not every occurrence points towards the worst-case scenario. While it's important to stay on top of things and do your best to keep your identity safe, there's no need to panic if you experience one of these signs, as it could be an isolated incident.

Always look into anything that doesn't look right, and follow the tips we have for protecting your identity further down in this article, but please don't stress yourself out before you know what's going on.

Credit score issues

If your credit score suddenly plummets, or you're seeing weird entries on your report, this is a clear sign that something is wrong. In some cases, it can simply be a matter of enquiries accidentally being attributed to you, but in many others, this issue points to identity theft.

Random credit card charges

While this one could simply mean that your credit or debit card has been skimmed (which still isn't great but is definitely better than having your identity stolen) random charges to your accounts can be a sign of identity theft.

An increase in scam calls

This one is definitely more of a grey area due to the increase in scam calls in general. However, if you're seeing a major uptick in random calls, it could be cause for concern.

Unexpected mail or strange emails

If you're getting random bills, subscription notifications or other strange mail or emails, don't ignore them. While they could simply be the usual benign junk and spam mail everyone gets, they could also point to something more sinister.

Bills and mail you are expecting stop arriving

If your bills or mail stop arriving as expected, contact the issuers immediately. Not only could this be a sign of identity theft, but it can also cause issues in other ways if you end up behind on your bills because they're not coming through.

Companies contact you about things you've never signed up for or used

Some companies are just dodgy and will hope that you won't notice you never signed up and pay them, so this isn't always a worst-case scenario type situation. Having said that, it can be, so it's essential to look into what's going on.

Debt collectors come knocking

Random contact from debt collectors is a clear sign that something is wrong. While some calls will just be scammers, you should always get as much information from them as you can (without giving away any yourself) so you can investigate the matter. Never pay unless you know for a fact that the debt is legitimate.

What to do if you think your identity has been stolen

If you believe that your identity has been compromised or stolen, it's important to act quickly.

The exact steps that you need to take will depend on your personal situation, but as a general rule, it is a good idea to contact the police, your bank and other important organisations immediately. If you're not sure who to consider inoperable, we suggest notifying the same companies you'd let know about a change of address.

You should also reach out to IDCARE, order a copy of your credit report, and put a block on enquiries while you're at it. We also suggest changing all passwords and letting those close to you know what has happened so they don't inadvertently fall prey to the same thief. Depending on the way in which your identity has been compromised, you may need to lock down (or even delete) your social accounts.

It is also wise to keep an eye out for any strange happening in your physical world as well as with your online presence, and anything that feels off should be reported to the police so they can add it to their file.

Steps to take to prevent identity theft

Even if you're careful, there's still a chance that your identity will be stolen. Having said that, by following the tips below, you'll be able to greatly reduce the risk.

Don't hand out personal details

Unless someone is properly verified, never give them your personal details. If a company calls you, always ring them back on an official line, and if in doubt, request that they contact you in writing instead so you can check the email address.

Use an identity monitoring platform

This is particularly important for those who have been put at risk by recent breaches, but monitoring your identity is a good idea even if you aren't in a position where it is necessary.

Never click links in emails or texts

Scammers can create quite convincing emails and text messages these days, with some even coming from numbers or addresses that look legitimate. Because of this, it is important to never click on any links that request personal data and always access sensitive sites through official applications or channels.

Keep devices up to date

Out of date software leaves your devices vulnerable to hacking. Always keep your device up to date in order to have the best security possible.

Don't recycle passwords

Although it can be tempting (and certainly easier for your memory) never use the same password across multiple sites or accounts. Consider using a password manager instead.

Lock up your letter box

Mail theft can very easily lead to identity theft because of the sensitive information that arrives via post. Always keep your letter box under lock and key.

Keep up to date with your credit

There are plenty of platforms available that offer free or cheap credit score checks. Take advantage of this so you can keep on top of things and get early warning if anything does go wrong.

Avoid shared or public devices

While shared devices within the home probably are less likely to pose an issue, public devices or shared computers at work can easily create a security breach. Never enter sensitive data on a device that can be accessed by others, as you never know what the device will store.

Don't be too social online

Finally, while social media is a great way to share your adventures and keep up to date with the lives of your loved ones, it's also one of the first places those with malicious intent will go to scrape data. Never have any information that could compromise your identity visible on your profile.

Final word

With most things existing within the digital sphere these days, our identities are more at risk than they've ever been. Taking steps to protect yourself can help prevent issues from arising, but it is also important to know the signs to look out for, and what to do if they appear.

Jessica Jones
Written by
Jessica Jones
Jess has been writing educational content for almost ten years with a focus on lifestyle content. She loves coffee, dogs and all things fitness, and can often be found with her nose buried in a book and her music blaring through her earphones.

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