Want to know an easy way to find out if you are victims of identity theft? Check your credit reports.
Your credit reports could reveal whether your personal information has been stolen and used to open new accounts in your names. It also can help you spot mistakes or issues that could be hurting your credit score.
Keep in mind that you can increase your chances of catching identity theft when it happens by signing up for a credit monitoring service rather than relying on infrequent credit report checks. For example, the Carefull app includes credit monitoring along with its account monitoring services that will keep an eye on your accounts 24/7 for missed and late payments, duplicate payments, changes in spending, unusual transactions and signs of fraud. You can try the service out for free for 30 days to start protecting your finances.
How to get copies of your credit reports
Federal law allows Americans to get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—once a year. However, the credit reporting agencies currently are offering free weekly reports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can access your reports at Annualcreditreport.com. You will need to fill out an online form that requests you name, Social Security number, birthdate, current address and previous address (if you’ve lived at your current address for less than two years).
Then you’ll need to confirm you identity by answering a few questions related to your lines of credit, employment or other personal information. You’ll be able to see your reports online and have the option to print them.
What to look for
Review your personal information on your reports to make sure your name, phone number, address, year of birth are correct and name of spouse are correct. If you see any errors, you can click the “Start a dispute” link next to the item with the error.
Your credit reports will show all credit card accounts, lines of credit, loans and mortgages in your name. Review each account to ensure that the status of the account (open or closed), the balance owed and payment history are correct. Again, you can dispute any errors you find, such as closed accounts that are listed as open or accounts that are incorrectly listed as late.
Keep an eye out for any accounts you don’t recognize. This could be a sign that your identity has been stolen and used to open accounts in your name.
Also be wary if account balances on credit card accounts are higher than what you think they should be. This could be a sign that your credit card numbers have been stolen and used to make purchases.
Your credit reports also will show whether there have been soft or hard inquiries on your accounts. Soft inquiries can happen when you check your own credit, when current creditors check your credit and when lenders check your credit for pre-approval. Hard inquiries, on the other hand, only happen if you have submitted an application for a loan or credit. If you haven’t applied for credit lately but there are recent hard inquiries on your report, it could be a sign that someone is using your identity to try to apply for credit.
How credit monitoring can help
Checking your credit reports can help you spot potential fraud. However, a lot can happen between checks. That's why signing up for a credit monitoring service can be a good idea.
Credit monitoring services will constantly monitor your credit reports and alert you of any changes, such as new accounts that are opened. They won't prevent identity theft, but the alerts can give you early warnings of potential fraud so you can respond quickly to limit the damage. Some services will also monitor the dark web to detect illegal selling of personal information. And some provide identity theft insurance that can help cover the cost of expenses related to resolving identity theft.
What to do if your parents are victims of ID theft
If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, contact the fraud departments of the companies where the accounts were opened or charges were made without your authorization. Reach out to all three of the credit bureaus to put a security freeze on your reports to prevent further lines of credit from being taken out in your name. Also, file a report with local law enforcement and visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft and get a recovery plan.
Again, taking advantage of technology such as the Carefull app can help quickly catch signs of fraud and identity theft. In addition to credit monitoring, Carefull provides $1 million in insurance and restoration services for subscribers whose identity is stolen.
[Keep Reading: How Seniors Can Protect Their Credit and Identity]