If someone gets access to your Social Security number or personal information, they could use it to take money from your bank account, commit a crime using your identity, get benefits in your name or steal your tax refund.  Keep reading to learn the warning signs that your identity has been stolen, what the thieves can do with this information, precautions you can take to protect your identity, and what to do if you find out you are a victim of the crime called identity theft.


Here are five common ways you could be affected by identity theft:


1.  An identity thief could use your credit card or take money out of your bank account.

  • Warning signs: You see purchases or withdrawals on your debit card, credit card or bank statement that you didn’t make.
  • Precautions: Check your bank and credit card statements often and consider signing up for text or email alerts when there is activity or purchases on your account.


2.  An identity thief could steal your tax refund or use your Social Security number to work.

  • Warning signs: You get a notice from the tax authorities (Internal Revenue Service) that there is more than one tax return filed in your name, or a notice in the mail from an employer that you have never worked for.
  • Precautions: Do not carry your Social Security card with you unless you need it that day and keep it in a secure place at home. Make sure any electronic communications you have that contain your Social Security number are encrypted. In general, you should only provide your Social Security number to your employer, a government agency, bank, or credit card company.


3.  An identity thief could use your health insurance to get medical care.

  • Warning signs: You get medical bills for health care you did not receive.
  • Precautions: Keep your medical records, medical bills, and insurance information in a safe place. If you discard medical paperwork or mail that contains personal medical or insurance information, shred it first.


4.  An identity thief could use your information to file a claim for unemployment benefits.

  • Warning signs: You get a notice from your state unemployment office or employer about unemployment benefits that you didn’t apply for.
  • Precautions: Keep your Social Security number, paycheck stubs and documents you receive from your employer in a safe place. If you discard these documents, shred them.


5. An identity thief could use your information to get credit or service in your name

  • Warning signs: When you review your credit report, you find accounts for credit cards, bank loans, cell phone service, utilities (like gas or electricity) that you did not open.
  • Precautions:  Review your credit report for free by visiting:  AnnualCreditReport.com. A credit report is a record that companies keep of your history of paying back loans and credit so lenders can decide on whether they will give you a loan. 

If you suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, immediately visit IdentityTheft.gov, and take action.