Q&A: What to do if you suspect someone opened a card in your name

Your first step to address potential ID theft should always be to check your credit reports

By  |  Published: August 12, 2017

The Credit Guy
Columnist Todd Ossenfort
Todd Ossenfort has been chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling since 1998. He writes our weekly "The Credit Guy" column, answering reader questions about credit counseling and debt issues.
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Question

Dear Credit Guy
If I’m concerned that someone has opened a Visa credit card account in my name, without knowing the bank involved, how do I find out? Thanks. – Randy

Answer

Dear Randy,
Identity theft continues to be a problem, even with all the attention this issue has received over the last several years. I am glad to address your concern and let you and all my readers know the best way to protect yourself.

First of all, I want you to know that you do not need to know the name of the issuing bank to find out if an account has been opened in your name without your knowledge.

Check your credit reports
Your first step is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com and pull your credit reports from each of the three reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. This is a free service available once each year to all consumers (you can also check your credit report for free at CreditCards.com).

You will need to look at all three reports, because sometimes the information may be different on the reports.

  • Examine each report carefully and mark off each account that you know is your own on each report.
  • Pay special attention to the detail on recent inquiries and new accounts, and be sure that any entries here belong to you.

Set up a fraud alert
If you do not find any unexplained activity on your reports, you are probably in the clear. If you still suspect someone may have used or plans to use your information to open an account, you can place an initial fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies. An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days and will give you time to investigate.

Place a credit freeze
If you do find unexplained activity, you should place a credit freeze on your reports. This will help to block any attempt to open a new account, because your credit report won't be accessible to potential lenders.

Be warned that if you need to access any new credit while the freeze is in place, you will also be adding to the time it takes for you to obtain new credit as long as the freeze is in place.  Also, it's important to mention that, unlike fraud alerts, credit freezes have a cost, and you will have to contact all three credit bureaus in order to place one on each of them. But this is a very effective way to protect your information.

In addition, if an examination of your reports does reveal an account that you do not recognize, you should immediately contact the bank that issued the credit card. This information will be on the credit report.

  • Ask to speak to someone in the fraud department and tell them what you have discovered.
  • There will likely be several steps you must go through to prove this is not your account. All credit card companies have fraud departments with set procedures in place to help the consumer who is the victim of identity theft.
  • While you may feel the card issuer is asking you to jump through hoops, know that the issuer also has a vested interest in uncovering any fraudulent activity and want to protect both you and the issuer.

When the culprit is somebody you know
A word of caution here, though – if the account was opened by someone you know, you likely will have to file a police report and press charges against that person in order to free yourself from any responsibility for the charges.

All too often these cases involve close friends or family members, and that can put you in a difficult spot.

  • If you cannot bring yourself to press charges, you will likely be responsible for any charges on the account.
  • That does not mean that you can’t come to an agreement with the other person to repay you, and I would encourage you to do that right away.

Close down the account
No matter what, shut the account down immediately. A freeze on your credit is definitely something you should do in these cases for the foreseeable future.

  • You will also be able to access your credit reports more often if you are the victim of identity theft.
  • In order to receive this benefit, you will need to report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.

 

Video: Inside the dark web

My recommendation for all my readers is to check your credit reports on at least an annual basis, even if you are not overly concerned about identity theft.

If you choose to get a report from only one agency at a time, you can check your reports every four months at no charge.

By making this a regular practice, you can spot problems quickly and take steps to correct any errors you may find.

Take care of your credit!

See related: 10 things you should know about identify theft, 10 warning signs of ID theft

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Updated: 10-18-2017

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