How can I use credit reports to detect identity theft?

One of the main dangers of financial or other online activity is the prospect of identity theft. Hackers, phishers, and others will attempt to discover your personal and financial information, and use that information to take advantage of your finances or credit history. You can take several steps to help ensure that you are not a victim of identity theft, as detailed in How can I avoid identity theft online? You can also obtain credit reports to detect identity theft or other problems.

Free credit reports

You can periodically request a free credit report to ensure that accounts have not been activated without your knowledge. Whether or not your data has been compromised in a security breach, you can receive one free report every twelve months from each of the three national credit bureaus. In fact, it is a good practice to rotate your requests and order a free credit report from one of the three credit bureaus every four months, in order to continually monitor your credit.

You may order free credit reports online from AnnualCreditReport.com, by mail, or by phone at 877-322-8228.

Note: Several services claim to offer free credit reports, but instead trap users into paid services. UISO suggests that you use the free official AnnualCreditReport.com service.

For more information on free credit reports, see the FTC's website on credit.

Reviewing your credit report

When you receive your credit reports, review them carefully. You should specifically look for new accounts being opened, especially accounts that look unfamiliar to you. Investigate any new, unknown, or suspicious account.

If you find any items you don't understand on your report, call the credit bureau at the number given on the report. Credit bureau staff will review your report with you.

Placing a fraud alert

If your Social Security number was involved in a security breach, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit bureau records. A fraud alert is a free service; it is a message that credit issuers receive when someone applies for new credit in your name. The message tells creditors that there is possible fraud associated with the account and gives them a phone number to call (yours) before issuing new credit. You can contact the fraud department at any one of the three major credit bureaus:

As soon as one credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts.

Note: You should be aware that a fraud alert may make it more difficult for you to obtain credit or process financial transactions. While it will not affect your credit, it will slow down the credit application process.

Notifying law enforcement

If you find suspicious activity on your credit reports or have reason to believe your information is being misused, you should file a complaint with the FTC by phone at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338) or online at the FTC's Identity Theft website.

Your complaint will be added to the FTC's Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, where law enforcement agencies will be able to access it for their investigations. The FTC will also advise you on further steps to take in the event your information is being used illegally.

Further information

For more on credit reporting and practices against identity theft, visit:

This is document auzd in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2015-03-12 00:00:00.

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