Unlike a robbery or burglary, identity theft often occurs without the victim's knowledge. Most identity theft victims only find out after they see strange charges on their credit card statements or apply for a loan.
While prevention is always the best policy, sometimes personal information is exposed through security breaches at banks or companies with which you do business. The point is, identity theft can happen to even the most well-prepared consumers.
The following FAQs will help you detect identity theft and minimize fraudulent activity at the early stages:
Checking your credit report is the best way to detect fraudulent activity done in your name. Evidence of identity theft typically comes in the form of fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report, such as incorrect addresses, name, initials or Social Security number.
Here are some other signs of identity theft:
Again, most victims of identity theft unfortunately don't know the crime has occurred until the damage has been done. Assuming you haven't checked your credit report lately, one of the following indicators may be the first sign of identity theft:
Your financial statements, especially credit card bills, should be checked closely for irregularities.
Monitoring your credit report is perhaps the best way to get an overview of all credit applied for and maintained in your name. So even if you don't receive suspicious mail or see fraudulent charges on your existing accounts, your credit report will reveal other signs of possible identity theft.
Look for inquiries from companies you didn't contact, accounts you didn't open, debts you can't explain and inaccurate personal information. Check your credit report at least annually and remember that federal law requires the credit reporting agencies to provide consumers with one free report each year.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows for one free report each year.
To get a copy of your credit report, don't contact Equifax, Experian or TransUnion directly, but instead contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service created by these three credit reporting bureaus:
877-322-8228; www.annualcreditreport.com; Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
Also, federal law entitles consumers to a free credit report if a company denies your credit application or otherwise takes adverse action against you, provided the request is made within 60 days.
Some commercial, fee-based services promise to monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity and alert you to changes. Not all are created equal and some of them are simply not worth the money. Do your homework and check out the company with the Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General if in doubt to see if they have received any consumer complaints.
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.