Your Credit Report and Identity Theft

1 July 2015

Many people don’t realize that the financial, regulatory, tax, insurance, real estate, retail and education systems are all highly interconnected. Simply engaging in any of these systems — which is inevitable — involves providing some sort of personally identifying information. Once that information is out there, there is a chance your identity could be stolen.

Your credit report offers a few ways to detect one of the most popular forms of identity theft: credit card fraud.

When your identity has been stolen, it may take months or even years before you realize that somebody is using your good credit against you. Signing up for a credit monitoring service and checking the accuracy of your credit report regularly can help you detect signs of identity theft early. Creditors, insurance companies, landlords and employers often make decisions about you based on the information provided by your credit report, which means it’s a good idea to get into the habit of verifying your information regularly.

When examining your credit report, check for these things:

  • Personal information: Look for addresses that are unfamiliar, incorrect Social Security numbers or dates of birth and unknown employers. Don’t be alarmed to discover that your previous addresses, employers or other names you have used appear on your credit report. As we said earlier, many official systems are interlinked to maintain a database of information about you.
  • Public records: Make sure information on liens, judgments, collections, child support debts and bankruptcy is accurate. Credit reporting agencies are required to correct or update inaccurate or incomplete entries. However, if the erroneous information is a result of misinformation on official documents, you might have to get a court to correct it.
  • Verify credit history: Accounts that are not yours, or activity on accounts that you have not used, are both warning signs and should be reported. Also review your balances for any unauthorized transactions.
  • Check inquiries: The inquiries section of your credit report tells you who has requested your credit information. Often these are routine checks by credit card companies you have applied to, or from pre-screened credit offers, where agencies examine your credit history before sending you a credit card application. However a number of unfamiliar entries could point to a thief requesting a credit card in your name, or impersonating a business to request your report. If there is certain activity that you think is out of place report it as soon as possible.

If any of the reported information is incorrect you should use the dispute form as instructed by the credit agency. The agency is required by law to respond within 30 days. If you’ve signed up with a credit monitoring service, they can help you through the investigation and recovery process.

Protection from identity theft is a matter of vigilance. If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft you should immediately notify the police and take steps to resolve the identity theft. Your credit report is a window into your financial world. Make sure you know what to look for to keep it protected.