Your credit report can do more than tell you about your borrowing history; it can also be one of the easiest ways to find out if your identity has been stolen. Identity theft affects millions of households each year, causing financial loss and major headaches as people’s stolen identities and credit histories need to be carefully restored.
By checking your credit report frequently and thoroughly, you can typically spot warning signs for identity theft, halting the crime and mitigating the damage it can cause.
Look for these five red flags as you comb through your credit report:
1. There is a line of credit that you did not open and/or with which you are not familiar. It is a pretty blatant red flag if you pull your credit report and suddenly notice a new credit card you’ve never seen before. If this has happened, it indicates that your identity was likely stolen and used to open new credit cards.
2. An account is delinquent or in collections and you did not know it existed or had been overdue. Often an account you did not know existed will also show up in collections because a scammer isn’t likely to do you the favor of paying the bills he or she accrues. But it’s also possible to see an account you do own wind up in collections. A credit card or line of credit you rarely use could have been stolen and used while the thief had all the bills forwarded to a new address. Utility or phone accounts fraudulently opened in your name could also end up in collections.
3. Your personal information is not correct and/or includes erroneous names or addresses where you never lived. While it might be easy to chalk this up to a clerical error, don’t make that mistake. It could instead mean that your identity has been hacked by someone who has added a new address, name, or other personal information to your file by opening new lines of credit in your name—even if the new accounts haven’t shown up yet.
4. There are hard inquiries for which you did not apply. Hard inquiries are requested on your behalf from potential creditors that are looking into your credit history in order to give you a loan or line of credit. These are inquiries you initiated when shopping for a car loan or mortgage or when applying for a new credit card—you should recognize each one. If you don’t, that’s a red flag which may signal that someone is using your identity to borrow money against your name.
5. There is a Social Security number similar to yours (but not yours!) on your credit report. This may seem to be a simple error, like a misspelled name, but it could actually indicate a new, and very hard to track, type of identity theft called synthetic identity theft. With this kind of identity theft, a thief cobbles together a completely new identity using a Social Security number from one person and a fake name or another stolen name. The “shadow identity” name itself likely won’t appear on your credit report, but people who have been victims of synthetic identity theft have reported instead seeing an erroneous Social Security number appear on their report.
If you spot any of these red flags, it’s time to take immediate action. Start by contacting the police to file a report, and also consider calling the FTC’s identity theft hotline at 877-438-4338 to file a complaint.
Next contact Equifax and the other credit reporting agencies in order to dispute any errors. (Click here to file a dispute with Equifax.) Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your account to halt any further fraudulent activity. Finally, contact the companies associated with any breached accounts in order to have the accounts closed.
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