SAN FRANCISCO (12/10/13)--Harried holiday shoppers beware: When it comes to protecting your wallet and your identity online or offline, you're susceptible to slip-ups that put you at risk for identity theft. Yet, many consumers don't know the signs that they're victims (Credit.com
Shoppers aren't the only ones at risk. As of late November there were 549 reported data breaches in 2013 with more than 13.3 million exposed records, according to the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center. Javelin's 2013 Identity Fraud Report revealed that almost one of four consumers who received a data breach letter became a victim of identity theft. The same study revealed that consumers who had their Social Security number compromised in a data breach were five times more likely to be a fraud victim than the average consumer.
How can you tell if your identity has been compromised (Credit.com
Surprise! You're denied. If your credit card is denied, find out why--particularly if you always pay on time and haven't reached your spending limit. Don't shrug it off and assume your card will work the next time. Start investigating immediately.
Unexpected increase in an account balance. This is a possible sign that someone made changes in your name and went shopping, hoping to leave you with the bill.
Unauthorized inquiries. When you see inquiries on your credit reports that you didn't initiate, that's a sign someone may be trying to open credit in your name.
Sudden drop in credit score. An unexplained drop in your credit score is a sign someone is using--and trashing--your credit.
Mysterious new account. The sooner you see unauthorized accounts opened in your name, the faster you can shut them down.
Bottom line: Review your credit reports regularly. You can order one free credit report a year from each of the "big three" credit reporting agencies--Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian--at annualcreditreport.com
. And keep an eye on your credit score. Ask at the credit union for help, or visit myfico.com
. Finally, contact one of the credit bureau fraud units about placing a fraud alert on your file. Find contact and phone numbers at ftc.gov.
For more information, listen to "The Truth About Identity Theft" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.