The most effective way to protect yourself against identity theft or fraud is to carefully examine your credit report on a regular basis. Even the slightest error in numbers or spelling is something to look into: this could mean the difference between a simple data entry error, or legitimate identity fraud. Here are three warning signs that you should be aware of:
Your personal information is incorrect
If you notice that anything in your credit report is inaccurate, you should be concerned. Even though this could mean that a number was simply entered incorrectly or letters were accidently transposed, you still want to fix these issues. If there has been a simple mistake, it shouldn’t take much work for you to have the data updated so that everything is current on your record. However, this could also mean that your information has been mixed up with someone else that shares your name, which could lead to significant issues down the road for you, or could mean that someone is, in fact, pretending to be you in order to obtain credit.
Rod Griffin, a public relations director for Experian, warns, “If you see a name you’ve never used, a Social Security number that doesn’t belong to you or an address at which you’ve never lived, it could be a sign of fraud.” Be sure to dive further into the details of your report to check for additional suspicious activity.
There are inquiries listed from lenders you don’t recognize
All credit companies are required by law to disclose the names of all companies that have obtained your credit information in the past two years. This doesn’t necessarily include “promotional” inquiries or “account review” notices, because these would be from companies running preapprovals for you or any of your current lenders reviewing your credit, respectively. However, if there are actual inquiries from companies you don’t recognize, you will want to investigate. Be mindful of the fact that some of the companies that will “check” your credit may be named differently than the location you went to to apply for credit.
For example, “XYZ Furniture” may use a company called “ABC Financing” to check your credit, and the latter is what would appear on your credit report. However, you will still want to look into these in case it isn’t simply a naming difference.
You notice accounts listed that you have never opened
This type of error is the biggest warning sign that something is wrong. Only accounts that you have opened, cosigned for, or are an authorized user on should be listed on your report. These unfamiliar accounts could be a sign that your credit is mixed up with someone else’s and will need to be sorted out, or could also reveal that your credit has been compromised.
You should request a copy of your credit reports at least once per year from the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Griffin says, “It’s important to take the information as a whole and in conjunction with other indicators. Things such as unauthorized charges on a billing statement, collection notices for accounts that are not yours, billing statements from an unknown lender or a call from an existing lender asking if you made a purchase that you did not make should also be taken into account.”
You should always take suspicious activity on your credit report seriously. It could be a minor mistake, but could also be something serious, and catching these things early can save you a lot of time and money.