Written by Spotloan

Recently, we published an article about the importance of checking your credit report annually. We cannot stress enough as to the importance of this activity. After all, doing so allows you the opportunity to dispute potentially erroneous information on your report, and you can become aware of negative information in your file. Another benefit, however, to checking your report annually comes from the ability to ensure that you are not a victim of identity theft or other fraudulent activities.

Recognizing if You Are a Victim of Identity Fraud 

If you have been a victim of identity theft, you know that it is not fun. And if you have been fortunate enough to have avoided this situation so far, know that it is not a club you will want to be in. This said, it is important to understand the signs that you have indeed been victimized by an identity-theft or online fraudster.

If your credit report shows an account that you do not remember opening, or that you are confident you never opened, this should be a big red flag to you. Most credit reporting agencies will provide guidelines on what to do if you see erroneous information - be sure to follow those steps.

Further, if you have been taking efforts to improve your credit score, but it doesn’t seem to be improving, this could signal a problem. Perhaps even worse, your credit score appears to be going down. If this is the case, make sure you are reviewing that credit report for potential errors.

Six signs that your identity might be at risk:

  1. You see a mailing or property address on your banking, credit card, or other financial statement, that does not belong to you and/or has never belonged to you. If this happens, get on the phone and call that institution to get to the bottom of the matter.

  2. You start receiving bills and statements for credit cards or loans that you don’t have. As with the rest of these warning signs, if this happens, you need to take action quickly.

  3. You start receiving phone calls from debt collectors regarding debt amounts that you do not owe. Do not mistakenly assume these calls are a scam. While you should not provide personal information until you have done your homework, listen to what the debt collector has to say, check the validity of their claim by reviewing your credit report, and then make the relevant calls to resolve the situation. 

  4. Your credit card balance is much higher than expected. Get in the habit of checking your credit card balance and the associated charges on a regular basis. If you see charges that shouldn’t be there, you need to contact your credit card provider as soon as possible.

  5. You are denied credit for some reason and don’t understand why. This may mean that your credit score is lower than you thought. Your score can absolutely be driven down by open credit lines and poor balance to credit limit utilization.

  6. You feel like you are missing money when you are looking at your bank statements. If you can’t figure out where the money is going, this is a sign that you need to revisit your monthly budget and make sure that no one else is using your identity.

What to Do if You are a Victim of Identity Fraud 

If you believe that you have become a victim of identity fraud, there are several steps that you should take. And, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. If your personal information has been misused by anyone, this can lead to serious problems and the longer you wait, the worse that those troubles can get.

After you have analyzed your situation, the next step is to contact one of the credit reporting agencies. If you contact one of the agencies, they will take the necessary steps to contact the other bureaus on your behalf.

Once the credit agency has been alerted, take the necessary steps to ensure your computer has not been subject to a virus. Running an antivirus program can scan the system to remove any malicious computer programs that could enable a hacker or other criminal to obtain your sensitive personal information.

Next, file a police report and open a case with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This can be done online through the FTC website, or by calling the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at (877) 438-4338. It is also wise to report identity theft and get guidance on your recovery plan through the FTC’s identity theft website.

Remember that through all of these steps, it is important to document your actions. Write down and properly document who you called and when, and what the proposed action items were coming out of those discussions. Make a note of the names of each and every person you talked to as well, as you may need this information later.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the signs that you may be a victim or targeted victim of identity fraud. Taking the right steps now will be worth it in the long run.