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How to check for, fix ID theft or fraud

Sudden new flurry of mail solicitations could hint at ID theft

By Todd Ossenfort

The Credit Guy
'The Credit Guy,' columnist Todd Ossenfort
The Credit Guy, Todd Ossenfort, is a credit expert and answers readers' questions about credit, counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
I keep receiving high end retail magazines from stores I would never be able to afford. How would I find out if an ex-family member has opened an account in my name or is it more likely that the company some other way got my name and address? I am just worried I have credit cards I don't know about. Thanks  -- TabathaAnswer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Tabatha,
The most likely scenario is that the retail companies have placed your name and address on their mailing lists after purchasing your information from another source. If you would like the mailings to stop, you can opt out of receiving those types of mailed solicitations by contacting the Direct Marketing Association and filling out an opt-out form.

It is wise of you, however, to be wondering about the possibility of a fraudulent account opened with one of these retailers. The simplest way to determine if any accounts were opened in your name without your knowledge is to check your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. All accounts associated with your name, address and Social Security number will appear on the reports.

Credit card videos

For more on this topic, check out this video:
Credit card video: 6 tips to protect yourself from ID theft

If you have not done so already, you can get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, you are entitled to one free copy of your report from each of the bureaus every 12 months.

Once you receive the reports, review them carefully to assure that all items reported belong to you and that they are reported correctly. If you find errors in your report, file a dispute with the credit bureau that reported it (see identity theft sample letters ). You can file disputes online at the credit bureaus'  websites. You may be surprised by what you will find on your report that IS accurate and not complimentary. If you have accounts that are past due, have been charged off or are otherwise reported as a negative, you would be wise to take the necessary actions to improve their status on your report.

If, after a thorough review of your report, you do find any fraudulently opened accounts, you will need to contact the credit bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your credit file. You need only contact one of the bureaus to place the alert and that bureau is required to notify the other two. The fraud alert cautions creditors that you may have been a victim of identity theft and makes it much more difficult for someone other than you to open an account in your name. An initial alert will remain on your report for 90 days and an extended fraud alert will remain for seven years.

The next step is to contact the creditor of the account and let them know the account is fraudulent and have the account closed. You will need to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and then file an identity theft report with your local police department. Once you have a copy of the identity theft report, send it to the credit bureau that reported the fraudulent account and ask that it be removed from your report.

Keep in mind that the person that opened the account in your name committed a crime and may be prosecuted for it.

Take care of your credit!

See related: How to dispute credit report errors, Identity theft sample letters 

Todd Ossenfort is the chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling in Rapid City, S.D. Pioneer Credit Counseling has been a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies since 1997.

The Credit Guy answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week. Send your question to The Credit Guy.

Published: January 19, 2009


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