Your credit report isn’t just good for showing your likelihood for accessing credit, it’s also one of the best ways to ensure your personal information is safe. Here are tips to help you prevent ID theft before it occurs, spot it when it does, and address it as quickly as possible:
Obtain your credit report at least once per year
Each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—are required by law to provide a free annual credit report to all consumers. Visit annualcreditreport.com to get yours – this is the only website recommended by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for accessing a free report, so beware of imposter sites that try to make you pay unnecessarily.
Look for inaccuracies – even small ones
Don’t just skim the details. Pay attention to every listing and look for inconsistencies in addresses, names, even something as small as a middle initial. Errors don’t necessarily mean you’ve been a victim of theft, but they should always be corrected. People with like names often have their information confused and reported incorrectly. And of course, if you see an open line of credit you don’t recognize, that is a red flag.
Formally dispute all errors
It turns out, the best way to know if you’ve been a victim of identity theft is to report and fix any and all inaccuracies on your credit report. This can take several weeks, so it’s best to act right away.
- Visit the website of each reporting agency and file a dispute for all errors.
- Directly contact the lender or credit card company that lists the inaccurate information. Request all records related to the account to see if they have the wrong person.
- If the documents show they have mis-identified someone else as you, the dispute process should go smoothly.
- If all documentation has your correct info, but you still don’t recognize the account, or you know you never opened that line of credit, it’s highly likely you have been a victim of ID theft.
If you suspect ID theft …
To the credit bureaus, you appear responsible for this credit activity, so it is important to take the following steps:
- Put a 90-day fraud alert on your credit. This will make it harder for anyone to continue using your information.
- Contact all the creditors where your information was used fraudulently and ask them to freeze and close the accounts.
- File a police report.
- Report identity theft to the FTC. With an Identity Theft Report from the FTC, the credit bureaus must honor your request to remove fraudulent credit accounts from your report.
- Continue to monitor all statements and your credit report to ensure no additional fraud is committed. Credit monitoring services can be helpful in this effort.
The best advice is to stay diligent about checking your credit report so you can catch theft as soon as it occurs.