Identity thieves are almost always opportunistic—but the crimes they commit feel very personal. Unauthorized credit card charges, bogus loan applications, missing money, and other financial violations make fraud a major nightmare. To keep fraud in check, you need to know how to check your credit report for identity theft, and how to deal with problems when they arise.
In this post, we’ll talk about the warning signs of identity theft—and then we’ll show you how to stamp out fraud before it starts.
Warning Signs of Identity Theft
- Incorrect Personal Information
- Lender Inquiries You Don’t Recognize
- Accounts You Never Opened
- Credit Utilization Goes Up
- Credit Score Goes Up or Down Unexpectedly
- Public Records You Don’t Recognize
How Do I Check My Credit for Identity Theft?
To avoid falling victim to identity theft, examine your credit report regularly. You can access a free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—once a year. (Through April 2022, you can get free weekly copies of your reports.) You can also use a tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card or ExtraCredit to monitor your credit.
When you download your credit report with ExtraCredit, you’ll see a list of positive accounts, late accounts, collections, public records, inquiries and account balances. Your credit report contains a lot of information about you and about your financial habits, and if that information changes unexpectedly, it can indicate identity theft. Here are five of the biggest fraud warning signs to watch out for.
Warning Sign 1: Incorrect Personal Information
Sometimes, incorrect personal information is the result of an innocent mistake. Other times, it means something sinister is going on. If you see your name misspelled, a wrong phone number or address, or an incorrect Social Security number on your credit report, investigate immediately.
Warning Sign 2: Lender Inquiries You Don’t Recognize
Credit bureaus keep the details of companies who ask for information about you on record for at least two years. Promotional inquiries and account review inquiries are nothing to worry about, because they’re preapproved credit offer inquiries or inquiries by companies you already do business with.
Hard enquiries from companies you don’t recognize are a different matter. Sometimes, fraudsters make a lot of credit card and personal loan applications in a short period of time, so if you see a recent list of unknown inquiries, someone might be trying to steal your identity.
Tip: Sometimes, the name of a financial institution doesn’t precisely match the name of the company checking your credit. Car dealerships, for example, sometimes run a series of credit checks via different finance companies—so it’s worth double checking before filing a fraud complaint.
Warning Sign 3: Accounts You Never Opened
Only your own accounts—including accounts that you’ve cosigned and for which you’re an authorized user—should appear on your credit report. If you find an unknown account on your credit report, one of two things has happened:
- Your credit information has been commingled with someone else’s information by mistake
- Your credit has been compromised by a fraudster
If you find an unknown account on your credit report, contact the relevant lender right away and tell them what’s going on.
Warning Sign 4: You Credit Utilization Goes Up
If you suddenly owe more than before and you haven’t changed your spending habits, someone else might be splurging on your behalf. Check your credit card statement very carefully and flag any suspicious transactions straight away. Most credit card companies have a maximum 120-day limit for chargebacks, so it’s important to review purchases regularly.
Warning Sign 5: Your Score Goes Up or Down Unexpectedly
Credit scores change over time. When negative information falls off your credit report after a certain period of time, your score increases. On the other hand, if you apply for too many loans or credit cards in a short space of time, your credit score could take a hit. If your credit score changes dramatically—especially if it’s for the worse—dig deeper.
Warning Sign 6: Public Records You Don’t Recognize
Negative public records can substantially impact your creditworthiness. Bankruptcies, for instance, often remain on record for up to a decade. If you see public records you don’t recognize, alert the issuing agency without delay.
Tip: Liens and civil court judgments used to appear on credit reports, but credit bureaus no longer collect information about those types of public records. Bankruptcies are now the only public records included on credit reports.
Can Someone Steal Your Identity with Your Credit Report?
Your credit report contains a lot of personal information, so it’s a goldmine for identity thieves. With a copy of your report in hand, a potential fraudster might be able to see:
- Full name
- Birth date
- Social Security number
- Current and past home addresses
- Phone number
- Accounts held in your name
- Payment records
- Public records, including bankruptcies
- Many other valuable personal and financial details
Credit report content sometimes varies according to the credit bureau.
If thieves need more information after accessing your credit report, they often choose to misrepresent themselves to get it. Phishing and smishing scams are when criminals pretend to be legitimate financial institutions—or government agencies like the IRS—to get personal information from victims via email or text.
What Is the Safest Way to Check My Credit Report?
You can check your credit report quickly and easily with Credit.com’s ExtraCredit monitoring service. ExtraCredit includes five helpful tools, which help you monitor, build, earn, protect, and restore your credit profile. Two tools in particular can help you avoid or combat identity fraud: Track It and Guard It.
With ExtraCredit’s Track It tool, you get access to all three credit bureau reports. You can also monitor 28 FICO® scores—the real scores lenders see when they consider auto loan, credit card, and mortgage applications. Track It also includes a helpful credit monitoring tool, which gets updated every month. If something suspicious happens, you’ll notice right away.
Many hackers sell consumer information on the dark web. Nefarious individuals use software, specific net configurations, or special authorizations to access the dark web. Thankfully, ExtraCredit’s Guard It tool actively monitors the dark web for consumer information and sends out security alerts when data breaches happen. You also get a $1 million ID insurance policy when you sign up with ExtraCredit.
Get Identity Theft Protection
Identity theft is a big problem in the United States. There were 650,572 cases of identity theft in America in 2019—and over 270,000 of those cases involved credit card fraud. If you see an unknown address or notice an unknown credit card on your credit report, flag it up right away. Tools like ExtraCredit from Credit.com make it easier to monitor your report on a monthly basis, so you can rest more easily.
DISCLAIMER. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to be, legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only.