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Detecting Identity Theft: Has Someone Stolen Your Identity?

A stolen identity can ruin your financial life for years, making it difficult to get a credit card, buy a house or car, or even find a job. The fact that identity theft victims may not discover a breach of their personal information for months makes this even more painful. Thieves have a disturbing amount of time to wreak havoc.

With the spread of the Internet, identity theft has become easier to perpetrate, increasing the number of victims exponentially. Through good habits--shredding important papers, using secure networks, and varying passwords--can help prevent a stolen identity, the fact is that there is no guarantee that your identity won't be stolen.

Therefore, in addition to working actively to prevent a stolen identity, it's a good idea to work actively to detect a stolen identity. All it requires is a little awareness.

The first step in detecting identity theft is to read your financial statements. This means credit card and ATM statements. Look for strange charges--amounts, businesses, and even locations.

And what happens when you don't receive your statements? Or any other mail related to your accounts? It's possible you may have been switched to paperless billing, but it's also possible that you could have a stolen identity. Be wary when these things don't show up.

If you don't watch your accounts and ignore missing mail, things can get worse, making identity theft easier to detect. It's likely that your identity has been stolen if you're receiving unexpected calls from debt collectors, mail about unknown accounts or transactions, or are being offered unfavorable credit terms. Do not ignore these signs.

As you can see, detecting a stolen identity isn't a particularly difficult task. In fact, it involves things that we should all be doing anyway--looking at statements, watching for mail, and questioning strange debts.

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