3 practical steps to catch identity theft early

The sooner you find out about identity theft, the sooner you can take action to restore control over your identity. Early detection helps to minimize the damage. Here are three steps you can take to alert yourself to potential cases of identity theft as early as possible.

1. Stay alert for warning signs. While none of the following is a sure sign of identity theft, each warrants further investigation.

Warning signs:

  • Missing Bills – One or more bills you normally receive every month fail to arrive as expected. This could just be a problem with the mail delivery, but it could also mean that someone has taken over the account and changed the billing address. Follow up with the creditor immediately.
  • Unexpected Credit Cards – One or more credit cards mailed to you that you never ordered. This could be a mistake, but it could also mean that someone is applying for credit in your name. Contact the issuing company immediately.
  • Loss of Credit – Being unexpectedly denied credit or offered unfavorable credit terms. There could be a legitimate reason, but this could also be a sign that your credit has been harmed by an identity thief. Ask why you are being denied or offered unfavorable terms.
  • Unexpected Bills – Notices in the mail or phone calls asking you to pay for merchandise or services that you didn’t buy. It might be a mistake or it might be a scam, but it also might be a sign that someone is fraudulently using your credit.

If you see any of the warning signs listed above, a good next step is to order a credit report – as explained in the next step.

2. Order and review your credit report. U.S. residents now have the right to three free credit reports per year, one from each of the major credit reporting agencies. If you rotate your requests between the three agencies, you can order a credit report every four months at no cost.

If you have reason to suspect identity theft, you should request fraud security alerts from the three main credit repositories and order a credit report. You are entitled to a free credit report as a result of your fraud security alert.

While it is possible to contact the national credit repositories (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) directly, you may also order your free credit report through a website sponsored by the three national credit repositories, AnnualCreditReport.com (or call toll free 1–877–322–8228).

If you have already received your free credit reports for that year, you may need to pay a fee through this service. You may be offered other reports and services for additional fees. Whether you do or do not want to purchase such additional reports or services is entirely up to you.

Check each report for accuracy and for indications of fraud. Here are some things to look for:

  • credit accounts that you did not open
  • applications for credit that you did not complete
  • credit inquiries that you did not make
  • charges you did not authorize, and
  • delinquencies that you did not cause.

Check identifying information in your credit report to be sure it is accurate including your name, address, and Social Security number.

3. Sign up for a credit monitoring service. Various companies offer services that monitor your credit file and send you an e-mail if there is any activity you should be aware of. These services are not free. A typical cost is $10 per month.

We don’t expect that everyone will want to purchase such a service. If you are concerned about identity theft, the cost may be worthwhile to you because these services provide a way to monitor your credit throughout the year.

Features and pricing vary considerably between service providers. Most providers offer a range of options. Many start with free offers, but will start charging you automatically beyond the free introductory period. Shop carefully.

If you sign up, you will need to provide personal identification information so the service can verify your identity. You will also need to provide a valid credit card number. You should always be the one to initiate the call or e-mail transaction. Do not provide this information to someone who contacts you claiming to represent such a service.

The following providers are listed for your information. We do not recommend one provider or service over another.

CreditCheck (Experian)

http://www.consumerinfo.com

Equifax

Request Credit Monitoring: (800) 437-4619

http://www.equifax.com

Transunion

Request Credit Monitoring: (888) 749-0731

http://www.freecreditprofile.com

 

© 2016 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only.

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