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9 Signs Your Identity Was Stolen

Damage can go deep long before you realize it.

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If you get mugged, you know immediately that you're the victim of a crime. But with identity theft, you can be victimized for years before you realize what's happening. And the longer the criminal uses your name, Social Security number, and credit, the more damage is done.

SEE ALSO: 7 Smart Moves to Prevent Identity Theft

With the recent Equifax breach exposing the personal information of as many as half of Americans, we could be in for an identity theft epidemic. Keep alert for these signs that your identity has been stolen, so you can stop the damage before it goes too far.

1. Strange bills or statements arrive

It's very important to always open your mail, even if it doesn't look important. A bill or statement from an unfamiliar service provider or credit account can often be the first sign of identity theft.

"You may think it's just junk mail, but you might discover it's an invoice for a surgery in a state where you don't live," warns Ann Patterson, program director of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance. "That is a very good indication that you've been a victim."

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2. Bills stop arriving

On the flip side, make sure you are receiving all bills and statements you normally receive. If one falls off, it could be that a criminal has changed the address on that account, which could help them establish other accounts going to a different address.

If your mail dries up altogether, that's a sign that a thief may have filed a change of address request at the post office — they could be getting all your mail with all the sensitive information found there.

SEE ALSO: The Equifax Data Breach: What You Should Do

3. Odd charges on credit accounts and checking accounts

Credit card companies have gotten good at alerting customers to fraudulent attempts to make charges, but they can't catch 'em all. Keep a keen eye on your credit card and bank statements. The first charge an identity thief makes may be small, because they're testing to see whether the card is active. There are also scammers out there who make their money by processing many small charges on many credit accounts.

4. You find yourself getting rejected for things

Your health insurance company rejects your claim because you're over your annual limit — but this was your first claim. You're turned down for a new credit card or your charges are denied at the store. You apply for life insurance and are charged a higher rate due to a pre-existing condition that you don't have. The ATM won't give you any money.

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Don't brush off any of these events. It could be a fluke, or it could be a sign that something sinister is going on.

5. You receive suspicious phone calls

A neighbor of mine recently received a phone call that purported to be from her bank. The caller read back a list of recent transactions, which set her mind at ease that the call was legit, even though she knew that caller ID numbers can be spoofed. She was then tricked into sharing a PIN with the caller.

SEE ALSO: Protect Yourself From Identity Theft When Traveling

What might be happening if you get a call like that? You may already be a victim of identity theft, with the criminal already accessing your bank account. They may use the information they already know to trick you into giving them more information, or the access they need to start stealing money.

6. You receive strange texts or emails

If you are smart, you've set up two-factor authentication on important accounts. This means that you have asked your bank or other service providers to email or text you before allowing you to sign onto your account or take other actions, such as transferring out money. The text may provide you with a one-time code that you need to type into the website to log in, for example.

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If you receive a text or email with a PIN when you didn't request one, this is a big red flag that someone has your login credentials and is trying to take control of your account. Contact the company immediately through the phone number on your statement. And change your password.

7. Creditors and collections agencies start calling you

You got a call from a car dealership warning that your payment is late. The only problem is you didn't recently buy a car, and you have no current car payments. This is a huge red flag. Do not simply write off such calls as errors or wrong numbers.

8. You don't receive your tax refund, or the IRS notifies you that you filed two tax returns

The Department of Justice reports that people have stolen billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury by filing tax returns using stolen identities, and pocketing the refunds. Just make sure it's really the IRS contacting you, instead of a scammer posing as the IRS. (See also on WiseBread.com.: Beware These 6 Phony IRS Calls and Emails)

9. There are accounts you don't recognize on your credit report

If any of the above warning signs occur, you should definitely request a free copy of your credit report and study it carefully. If there are any credit accounts listed there that you didn't open, your suspicions will be confirmed.

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SEE ALSO: Fighting Identity Theft on the Dark Web

Even if you didn't experience any warning signs, you should check your report regularly, especially in light of the Equifax breach. You can request a free report from each of the three agencies once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com, so if you request one every four months, you'll be able to stay pretty on top of things.

This article is from Carrie Kirby of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.