Having a bank account, a mortgage, and a credit card or two out on your name naturally affords you a whole lot of responsibility. You must effectively keep track of a whole series of due dates, interest rates, and your own budgeting goals to keep from going under. In return, you’re afforded convenient spending abilities and access to a higher quality of life– a fair tradeoff.
Unfortunately, everything you’ve worked for is at constant risk from the persistent clutches of identity theft. No matter how much you’ve sacrificed for that savings account, or how careful you’ve been with spending and paying off that credit card, there are plenty of hackers and scammers out there willing to reap your rewards for their own in a blink of an eye.
It doesn’t really matter who you are: identity fraud is something you need to be concerned about. You’ll have to constantly keep an eye out for signs you’re being taken advantage of. Though this may seem like just another tasking chore to stack on top of your pile, it doesn’t have to be difficult to do. Knowing when your identity has been stolen starts with looking for certain smaller discrepancies that, though easy to miss, are also easy to seek out if you know what you’re looking for.
A good place to start? Your credit report. Take a closer look at your next report, using the following tips to help you recognize possible signs of identity theft.
Look for Unfamiliar Credit Inquiries
Your credit report will include every company or lender that has pulled your credit within the last two years. Study this list carefully and make absolutely sure you recognize and remember every credit inquiry. You may see some “account review” inquiries that you don’t remember, but those are usually simple reviews from your current lenders. Any other unfamiliar dates should be noted and looked into.
You will also need to look for names of lenders you don’t recognize or have never worked with before. This is especially important if it’s been within the last month or two; the faster you can report a problem, the better. (Though it won’t hurt to do a little digging on your own records– it would be embarrassing to report on suspicious activity that turns out to be your own forgotten attempt at a credit card application!)
Check for Inaccurate Information
Instead of skipping over the list of all your personal information, peruse this section closely. Make sure everything listed is exactly right: your name, address, and your social security number. An inaccurate SS# or a foreign address could mean one of two things:
- There has been an accidental mix-up between your credit information and that of another person’s.
- Someone has been using your name to receive credit of their own.
Either way, it’s important to get the discrepancy cleared up as soon as possible. It’s also very important to look through any linked bank accounts that state you as an authorized user or cosigner. If you see a bank account you don’t recognize, this is a huge red flag. Someone could have easily comingled their account with yours. This is a pretty sure sign of fraud; if this is the case on your report, call it in immediately.
Question Your Credit Score
Although most of us are often accustomed to indignantly questioning our credit score to some degree, take the time to deeply evaluate your score when you feel suspicious. Consider the loans you’ve taken out in the past year, the payments you’ve made on credit cards, and how many times your credit has been pulled. Does the number still make sense? Does it seem lower than it should be?
Your score is based on so many factors that it can be difficult to accurately estimate– even a change in job status can affect it more than you’d realize. But if your credit score has dropped dramatically within a short amount of time for inexplicable reasons, you have a right to be suspicious. Research all the factors going into your score, and try to come up with the answer on your own before you report anything.
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Keep an Eye Out for Changes
The threat of identity fraud never really goes away, especially in our digital age of online banking and ecommerce shopping. Though it’s a pretty threatening environment, you should never let this threat hinder you from engaging in online transactions you trust. But if you’d like to avoid the kind of damage a sneaky, covert scammer can do to your finances, you should pay constant attention to your credit score and report information.
Though you really can’t afford to pull your credit over and over just to make sure there are no signs of fraud, you do have other access options. Certain sites like Credit.com and Credit Karma offer rough credit scores for absolutely free without dinging your credit score. Credit.com’s program will also alert you to changes at no cost or consequence to your credit. This type of information isn’t 100% accurate, but it is still the most efficient way to keep yourself in the loop on your own credit.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where it’s impossible to let our guard down against these kinds of attacks. Fortunately, keeping on top of your credit history and watching for unauthorized changes is the bulk of the battle. It doesn’t even have to take up more than five minutes to follow these tips, and afterwards you will have come out on top.
By spending the extra time to take these precautions, you’ll be much more likely to catch any fraud before it gets too far. This will save you money and a lot of headache in the long run. With all your other responsibilities to worry about, this is well worth the extra bit of attention you can give it.
If these tips don’t turn up any evidence of fraud, yet you still feel suspicious that there’s something going on, there are other places to look. Start with this list of warning signs and make sure you cover your bases. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself.