Identity theft is becoming commonplace, and many people are still confused about what to do when it happens to them. Last year we had a couple of things happen that were concerning. The first instance was when we received a T-Mobile debit card that was ordered in a Safeway store in Silver Springs, Maryland, made out in my wife’s name, and mailed to our address in Bayport, MN. We cancelled the card with T-Mobile off course and checked the three credit bureaus. Then we received a tax refund from the State of Indiana, again made out to my wife and a second individual, a man’s name that neither of us recognized. For this second incident, we called the Indiana department of revenue, the credit bureaus, and reported this to the local police department. I expected indifference, but the local PD was very enthusiastic to get involved in this case. My wife also signed up for LifeLock.
So what is the point of this story? There is actually a lot you can do on your own, independent of credit monitoring services such as LifeLock, that actually work pretty well.
Request your free credit report
According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau of the federal government, you can order your free credit reports once a year from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The easy, free, and official way to do it is from AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the site official sponsored by the three national credit bureaus. Accept no substitutes.
Review your credit reports and look for things like:
- Credit card charges that you don’t recognize
- Calls or letters about things you didn’t buy
- Bills that arrive on unusual days
- New credit cards or statements for accounts that you didn’t open
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Information on your credit reports you don’t recognize, such as accounts or addresses
If you find discrepancies, you need to contact the credit bureaus and have the information removed from you record, or it will become a permanent part of your credit profile.
Other Credit Agencies
Some forms of identity theft will not show up in the standard credit bureaus, especially things like payday loans, check fraud, and utility (gas, electric, phone, wireless) fraud. There is a great article on the Lifars blog that goes into this in more detail. These industries use specialized credit agencies, and so these other agencies bear checking as well.
- LexisNexis Personal Reports – a trove of all sorts of public records
- Clarity Services – used by the payday loan industry
- Teletrack – payday loans, rent-to-own, auto finance
- ChexSystems Consumer Report – mostly banking
- TeleCheck – used by retailers who accept checks
- National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange
Credit Card Companies
The real surprise for us was that Capital one, the credit card company, has been quite proactive in providing information to us about changes in our credit profile. They were actually better than the expensive credit monitoring service that we purchased. So it is probably a good idea to contact your credit card companies and request to be added to their credit and security monitoring programs.
Free Credit Monitoring
The chance that your personal information was NOT part of one of the hundreds of retail, online, or medical information breaches this is nearly zero. In each of these cases, the responsible party is providing commercial credit monitoring services at no charge to you. Go ahead and get signed up for it.
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