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10 Signs Your Identity's Been Stolen

NEW YORK (LowCards.com) -- Recent security breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, Skype and Snapchat show identity theft has become a major problem in our society.

Personal information, email, credit cards and bank accounts are unfortunately not as private and protected as we think. It is important for consumers to recognize suspicious activity and take steps to protect themselves.

Here are the top 10 signs you need to look out for to spot identity theft:

1. Unauthorized credit or debit card purchases
Fraudulent debit or credit card purchases are a clear indication of identity theft. You need to carefully review each transaction that appears on your statement. If you notice something on your account that you do not remember buying, you need to contact the card company immediately.

2. Unexpected credit approvals
Have you ever been approved for a loan or a credit card you never applied for? That may be a sign of identity theft. You have to be careful about jumping to that conclusion, though, since some businesses send out mass mailings of what appear to be approvals of a loan.

3. Instant credit decline
This one applies to people who normally have good credit and stay up to date with their credit card payments. If you try to apply for a loan and get instantly declined, it may be because there are issues with your credit you don't know about. The same is true if you try to use your card and it gets rejected at the register. If you know you should have credit and you don't, you need to investigate.

4. Unprompted collection letters
If you start getting collection letters in the mail from companies, especially ones you may not deal with, you need to contact them to understand the problem. You may find that someone else has been opening accounts under your name. Call the collection company and explain the situation.

5. Email account issues
Sometimes an identity thief will hack into your email account to see what kind of information is stored there. They will check for bank statements, credit card receipts and any other financial information.

6. Flagged account warnings
If your bank or credit card account has odd charges on it, your financial institution may flag your account for closer monitoring. If you get a letter or call, you need to talk to the bank and see what is going on. Make sure you know who you are talking to without question -- it may actually be someone looking to steal your identity in the future. Do not give out your Social Security number or other sensitive information without verifying the identity of that person.

7. Credit score decreases
If you notice a severe drop in your credit score, it may be the work of an identity thief. Dropping a couple points from time to time is to be expected, but not dropping 50-plus points. There should be a page in your credit report that details the various accounts you have open. If you notice one you personally did not open, contact the company to see what they can do.

8. Surprising arrest warrants
If you have a warrant out for your arrest for no reason, someone may have stolen your identity to commit a crime. Talk to the police about where you were during the warrant-related incident and see if they can track down the real criminal.

9. Medical insurance denials
Some identity thieves will use medical insurance information to take care of their own problems. They essentially visit the doctor and charge the bill to someone else. If you get unexpected medical bills in the mail or are denied insurance coverage when you have a problem, you could be a victim of ID theft.

10. Missing letters
Missing mail you thought you should have had by now? Someone may have taken it right out of your mailbox. Call the sender of the mail and see if they did in fact send something out. If so, have them resend the letter and monitor your credit accounts in the meantime.

Bill Hardekopf is chief executive of LowCards.com, which compares and rates more than 1,000 credit cards. He is the co-author of "The Credit Card Guidebook."

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