Protecting your identity: Signs of identity theft

You may wonder how you can recognize whether or not you are a victim of identify theft. Here are some red flags:

  • Your credit cards or other bills don't arrive when you expect them. A thief could have changed your address with a financial institution and started using your credit card. He'll change the address so it will take longer for you to figure out the problem. Most financial institutions allow you to look at your accounts online. Do so regularly to avoid this problem. If you see charges you don't recognize call your bank's customer service line immediately
  • You start to receive credit cards for accounts you know you didn't open yourself. Don't hesitate one second. Call the financial institution that issued the card immediately.
  • You are denied credit even though you know you have a good credit history. Whenever you are denied credit for whatever reason you are entitled to free copies of your credit reports from each of the three top credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. As part of that denial, you should get a letter that tells you how to get those free credit reports. Take advantage of this law and review your credit report to see what the problem is. If you find fraudulent accounts on your report, follow the instructions on the report that explain how to deal with fraudulent accounts.
  • You get a call from a store about a purchase you know you didn't make. If you do get this type of call, don't give out any information because the call could be a phishing attempt. But do find out as many details about the purchase as you can, as well as the caller's name and contact information. Be sure you get the name of the company and then look up a contact number yourself. Call the company after you've checked it out. Only after you know the company is legitimate should you give out any personal information. Also, call your credit card company and let them know that your card was used fraudulently.

Any time you suspect fraud you should place a fraud alert at all three credit reporting agencies. They will place a 90-day fraud alert on your account, which can be extended. They will also send you a copy of your report to be sure there aren't other problems. Here are the contact numbers to report fraud:

  • Equifax - 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian - 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion - 1-800-680-7289

You can never err by being too cautious. It's better to report a possible fraud attempt and be wrong, than not to report one and allow a problem to continue to grow and fester.

Lita Epstein has written more than 20 books including the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Improving Your Credit Score."

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