Even though you may be completely innocent, having your identity stolen can cost you. First, it can cost you money in dealing with all of the problems it can cause. And second, it can cost you a ton of time trying to fix it too.
What’s the key to stopping identity theft in its tracks? Detecting it before the spending and opening of accounts spiral out of control.
How Your Free Annual Credit Report Can Stop Identity Theft
Early detection of identity theft is an excellent reason to take advantage of your free annual credit report. Even if you’re scared to see your score, you should get your report to identify any unknown accounts or mistakes on your history.
If you see an account on your report that you did not open, don’t automatically assume it’s just a mistake by the company or credit reporting bureau. It could be identity theft, and you should call the company to notify them. Be sure to contact the credit bureau, too, and dispute the account so it can be removed.
Besides new, unknown accounts, check the inquiries section of your credit report as well. If you see companies you don’t recognize have been reviewing your report, place a fraud alert on it. This can force businesses to confirm your identity before they open any new accounts or loans in your name.
You want to keep your eye out for hard inquiries from businesses you’re unfamiliar with. Those occur when you apply for credit. If you know you haven’t applied and see a hard inquiry, it may be an identity thief who’s using your information.
Beyond checking your credit report, there are other ways to tell if your identity has been stolen. Here they are:
1. You get bills in your name that you never opened.
When you receive a bill in the mail for a credit card or other loan in your name that you never applied for, contact the company immediately. Let them know you think your identity has been stolen, and they can proceed to fix the issue from there.
2. You no longer receive your credit card bills.
If you missed one month’s credit bill, an identity thief might have taken it from your mailbox. And if it’s been a while since you’ve seen a statement, they may have changed the address it gets sent to altogether.
When this happens, contact your card issuer to make sure they’re still sending the bill to the correct address.
3. Debt collectors harass you for accounts you didn’t open.
Getting a call from a debt collector for an account you never opened could be a sign that your identity was stolen several months ago.
Tell the collector the account isn’t yours. Let them know they shouldn’t contact you anymore, either.
Check your credit report for the account in question. If you see it or any other suspicious accounts, put a fraud alert on your report. You can also set a security freeze on it to keep new accounts from being opened in your name.
4. You’re denied for a loan or credit card.
Getting denied for credit or a loan isn’t suspicious in itself. If you were expecting approval, however, you’ll want to find out exactly why you were rejected.
The creditor or lender must tell you. If the reason sounds suspicious, check your credit report to ensure it wasn’t due to identity theft that’s been damaging your score unbeknownst to you.
5. You can’t find your credit card.
The minute you cannot find your card, you should report it lost or stolen. This can keep someone else from running up charges on it that could ruin your credit later on.
Even if you just lost it or misplaced it somewhere in your home, your best bet is always to contact the issuer as a precaution until you know for sure what happened to the card.