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7 Signs Your Privacy Has Been Compromised

Jan 11, 2021 4 min read Eric Roberge

Key takeaways

  • Even day-to-day activities can put your personal information at risk.
  • Be diligent in watching for signs that your identity has been stolen.
  • When compromised, alert service providers and credit bureaus and file a police report.


The internet can be a useful tool to help you manage your money, but it can also be a dangerous place for your personal information. Any time you use your credit card for purchases, submit personal information online, or send emails containing sensitive data, you could be putting your identity and finances at risk.

That doesn't mean you should avoid using these channels or tools, but you should remain vigilant so you can act quickly if someone gains access to your financial or personal info. Here are seven warning signs that you may have been compromised:

 

 

  1. 1. You get a bill for a service or product you didn't buy

    If you get a strange bill in the mail, don't shrug it off as an error. Receiving statements or bills for things you didn't purchase could indicate that someone used your personal information to commit fraud or theft.

    Contact the company that sent the bill and explain it's not your account or charge, and that you suspect your identity was stolen. Then, file a police report.

     

  2. 2. You see strange charges on your credit card statement

    Unauthorized charges on your credit card statement serve as similar red flags that your privacy was somehow violated. Even if you don't use your credit cards often or have autopay set up on your monthly bill, you still need to review every statement carefully.

    The same goes for all your bank accounts. Do a quick review of your monthly statements to make sure all transactions are legitimate.

    If you find a strange charge you didn't make, call your credit card company or bank to file a claim and begin the dispute process. They should also cancel the credit or debit card in question to prevent further fraud and send you a new one.

     

  3. 3. Your credit score drops for no reason.

    Your credit score should remain fairly stable—or even increase over time—assuming you make all payments on time and in full, use the same amount of your available credit month to month, and avoid opening and closing multiple accounts at once.

    These days many banks and credit card companies provide your score for free when you log into your account. Even so, different financial institutions might use different formulas to determine your score, so you might see numbers that don't match exactly—but they should be fairly similar.

    If you see your credit score take a sudden nosedive, and you haven't changed your financial behaviors, it's a sign that someone may be misusing your data. Start investigating further by pulling your credit report or contacting the credit bureaus—Experian Opens in new window, TransUnion Opens in new window and Equifax Opens in new window—to potentially freeze your credit.

     

  4. 4. You find errors on your credit report

    It's a good practice to pull your credit reports once per year from AnnualCreditReport.com Opens in new window. You can get a free copy every 12 months from each of the big credit bureaus (you can request it more often, as well, but you'll pay about $12 each time you ask for an additional copy).

    Once you get your credit report, review it carefully. If you find an error or an account you don't recognize, that's a signal that your information may be compromised. Reach out to the credit bureau that issued the report and file a dispute. Here's how you can get in touch with each bureau about errors and potential signs of fraud:

     

  5. 5. You apply for credit or a loan—and get denied

    Assuming your credit is good, getting denied when you apply for a new credit card or loan could be a sign that your identity has been stolen and used to open new accounts or lines of credit. This is a good time to review your credit report as well.

     

  6. 6. Your regular bill or statement stops showing up

    Again, don't chalk something like this up to an error on the part of the service provider. If your regular statements or bills suddenly stop arriving in your snail or e-mailbox, it could be because someone stole your personal information and changed your mailing address in the process.

    Call the company you expected a statement from and ask them to check their records. If they show they sent a statement—but to another address—inform them that your identity may be compromised and work with them to start the claims or dispute process. And again, file a police report.

     

  7. 7. You get alerts or emails about attempted sign-ins or password changes

    Fraud alert notifications should be taken seriously and should prompt you to investigate. However, if you get a text or email notification that your password has been changed (or someone tried to do so), don't open any links in the email. Either call the institution directly to set a new password, or open a new tab, log into your account and reset your password from there.

    To better prevent fraudulent access to your accounts, sign up for "two-factor authentication"—where you must enter a separate code to access your account from each new device or browser—whenever it's available.

     

What you can do next

Get copies of your credit reports from the "'big three" bureaus (for free via AnnualCreditReport.com Opens in new window). You'll get a baseline idea of your credit score to compare with future scores and a chance to review all open accounts. You can also check your score when you access many bank and credit card accounts.

Footnotes

Eric Roberge is a CFP and financial writer who contributes to MONEY, Forbes and Kiplinger, and has been featured in numerous outlets including USA Today, CNBC and The Boston Globe.

 

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