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Expert Q&A

Have I fallen prey to identity theft?

Summary

It’s relatively easy to find out if you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, given the availability of credit reports and online billing statements. Clearing up an identity theft issue, however, is more difficult and may require contacting local authorities.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Let’s Talk Credit,
How do I find out if someone is using credit in my name without my knowing? — Carolyn

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Carolyn,
Most creditors report account activity to the three major credit bureaus. I recommend that you obtain copies of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion through AnnualCreditReport.com (you are entitled to one free report per year from each of the bureaus). Review your reports for any accounts that you do not recognize, as well as your billing statements for fraudulent charges on your existing accounts.

Should you discover any accounts on your credit report that you did not open, contact the credit bureau that issued the report and let it know you are an identity theft victim and would like to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. That bureau is required to communicate your request to the other two bureaus. The fraud alert will require that your identity be verified before issuing new credit in your name.

Next, you will need to create an identity theft report. Fill out and print the Identity Theft Affidavit on the Federal Trade Commission website. Take the form and report the identity theft to the police. You will be given a copy of the police report once it is reported. The affidavit and completed police report are required by the credit reporting bureaus to remove the fraudulent account from your credit report.

Clearing up an identity theft issue can be a long and cumbersome journey. You will need to contact any business that opened a fraudulent account and send them your identity theft report. Remember to keep good records, including business contacts and dates you sent documentation to prove your identity was stolen.

Sometimes, the person who steals your identity and causes you financial hardship is a family member. Keep in mind that if you report the theft to the police, your family member may be arrested for the crime.

If you believe that your personal identification information may have been compromised, but you don’t see any unfamiliar accounts on your credit report, you have the option to place a freeze on your credit report. A credit freeze prevents anyone from receiving a copy of your credit report, including potential lenders.

To place a credit freeze, you must contact each of the three bureaus and make the request. In some states you will be charged a fee to place the freeze or to lift the freeze. Contact your state attorney general’s office and ask what fees are allowed in your state. Remember that if you need to apply for new credit or view your credit report during the freeze, you will have to request that the freeze be lifted.

Let’s keep talking!

See related:10 things you should know about identity theft, Parents stealing kids’ identities, Credit report anatomy: How to read, understand reports

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