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Identity theft has become an alarming facet of life, with all the personal information scammers can access about you online. For instance, the Identity Theft Resource Center reports that the number of data breaches involving sensitive personal information rose 83 percent in 2021, compared to 2020.
In this light, reader Victoria has some concerns about identity theft relating to her own personal information. She writes, “I have started getting happy birthday notices from different banks and creditors that are not connected to one another. The first email was received yesterday from Synovus Bank wishing me a happy birthday. My birthday is in May.
“Then today I received another email from my apartment community management office which is not connected with Synovus at all wishing me a happy birthday. Where do you think this incorrect information could be coming from? Do you think I should contact the credit bureaus? Does it sound like someone tried to apply for credit in my name? Please advise. This is very strange, to say the least. Thank you.”
Use of your identity to commit fraud
Identity theft refers to a situation in which someone uses your identity without your permission, typically to commit fraud for financial gain. This could include use of your sensitive information such as your social security number, bank account number, brokerage account number, or your medical insurance information. It could also involve use of more readily available information such as your name, your date of birth or home address.
Once they have this information, fraud perpetrators could use it for their own purposes. Among other things, they could use it to:
- Set up credit accounts in your name
- Open an account with a utility company, such as phone, gas, or electricity account
- Steal money from your financial accounts
- Access your tax refund
- Make use of your online accounts
Getting access to your personal information
Of course, all these misuses would have repercussions for you. A fraudster could access your input online, particularly when you post on social media or otherwise share information online. And when making online purchases, make sure the site is secure (displaying a padlock icon and https address).
Fraudsters could also go through garbage and access your information, if you haven’t been careful about shredding mail. In a public space, they could be watching as you key in your card pin number. They could call you pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service (or any other authority or business) and get your information.
You may get spam email or be phished by someone sending you an email or text message that tricks you into giving up your personal information. Identity thieves could also use malware, or a harmful computer program, embedded in documents or software that you download through the Internet, to get your information.
Warning signs that you’re a victim of ID fraud
Certain warning signs can signal that you’re a victim of identity theft. Here are a few examples:
- Your credit card statement shows purchases you didn’t make.
- You didn’t receive a bill you get regularly, which may mean someone changed your mailing address.
- Your bank account shows withdrawals you didn’t make.
- Your credit report shows accounts you didn’t open.
- You lose service on a utility account.
- You receive notices from debt collectors holding you responsible for debts you’re not familiar with.
- You receive a medical bill for a service you didn’t use.
- Somebody has filed a tax return in your name.
If your information has been exposed through a data breach, you should be watchful too.
Wrong birthdate a cause for concern
And in your case, Victoria, your suspicions are aroused because different businesses are sending you birthday greetings on the wrong date. It’s good to be vigilant about your personal information.
You should get a free copy of your credit report and go through it to see if there are any accounts you don’t recognize. Also, check to see if your personal information is correct.
If you find any sign of fraud, such as accounts on your report that you didn’t open, or see input in your credit report that is incorrect (such as a wrong birthdate), you should follow up by filing a dispute with the credit bureaus, along with supporting documents to make your case.
If there are signs of fraud, you should also put in a fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, which will then report the alert to the other two too. That will make it harder for anyone to open accounts in your name. You could even report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
Victoria, it could even be that the greetings you received are spam mail aimed at getting your information. You could follow up with the senders to look into the matter.
The bottom line
Fraudsters could get hold of your personal information in various ways to make use of it for their own financial gain. They could open credit card accounts in your name or access your bank account, for instance. Be careful about sharing your personal information online. And be watchful for warning signs of fraud, such as purchases you didn’t make showing up on your credit statement. In these situations, it’s good to be vigilant, like Victoria!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your credit card-related questions.