The quickest way to find out if someone opened a credit card in your name is to pull your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus and look them over carefully to see if there are accounts you don’t recognize. If you find any fraudulent accounts, you should immediately take action to mitigate any damage caused by identity theft.
Identity theft is no joke. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, reported that millions of people every year are the victims of identity theft. Roughly 90% of the time it’s just a matter of a stolen credit card, but there are still millions of reported cases of more serious identity theft.
Just as technology designed to protect your data continually improves, criminals evolve to try and thwart that very technology. Because it’s so prevalent, it’s important to be aware of the signs of identity theft. Read on to find out what to do if it happens and how to protect yourself from future incidents.
How to find out if someone opened a credit card in your name
There are several ways you might accidentally discover that someone opened a credit card account in your name. You might receive an unfamiliar bill in the mail, a confusing email, or even a collection notice for an account you’ve never heard of.
Sometimes mistakes happen, though, so the only way to know for sure is to get a copy of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. (Fortunately, you can do that right here.) It’s important to check each one because creditors don’t necessarily report to all of them. For example, your Experian credit report may list all your accounts, but TransUnion might not.
This is why you need to carefully inspect each report to look for anything unfamiliar. And if you do find a fraudulent account, you’ll want to quickly take action to prevent any further fraud from happening in your name.
What to do if you’re a victim of identity theft
Once you’ve found fraudulent new accounts in your name, there are a number of steps you should take right away. The sooner you act, the sooner the matter can be resolved and you can clear your name, your credit, and any debt incurred.
Contact financial institutions
The first call you make when addressing issues of identity theft should be to whichever bank or financial institution issued the card in your name. It is credit card fraud, after all, and they are the only ones who can put an immediate stop to any further action on the credit card.
As soon as you contact the bank, or credit card issuer, explain the situation and request that they cancel the card or at least put a hold on it until the matter is resolved. They will likely want to check their own records and conduct an investigation as well into the fraudulent activity.
Be aware that credit card companies will likely make you jump through quite a few hoops to prove your identity. But chances are they will believe as long as you can answer basic confirmation questions, such as your address and the last 4 digits of your SSN. After all, it’s pretty unlikely identity thieves will call up financial institutions trying to stop new credit activity.
Put fraud alerts on your credit reports
Your next step should be to immediately get an initial fraud alert, or a total credit freeze, with the credit bureaus. If someone was able to open a credit card in your name, they likely have a lot more information than your name and date of birth. They probably have your Social Security number too, which is essentially the keys to the castle.
What a fraud alert does is basically create more rigorous identity verification for approving a new credit card account or loan application. A credit freeze, on the other hand, blocks anyone from checking your credit scores or reports at all.
This way, no matter how much of your personal data an identity thief has, they can’t get access to your credit report. Therefore, a credit card company can’t access your credit file either in order to grant approval.
Of course, this also means you can’t apply for loans or new credit without unfreezing your report first. Luckily, you can do this for free if you’ve been a victim of identity fraud and can show a valid investigative report. It’s more of a hassle than a simple fraud alert, but if someone has your Social Security number, it’s probably worth it.
Some credit cards even come prepared with fraud liability protection. With this extra level of security, your credit card issuer may cover online or in-person purchases made without your consent. If this feature appeals to you, take a look at some of the credit cards below.
Pull your credit reports
If you haven’t done this already (because you found out about the fraudulent account some other way), do it now. Every year you can get at least one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Since the pandemic, some credit reporting agencies will even do it more frequently.
Go through each credit report with a fine-tooth comb. This is important to not only locate the fraudulent account that you know about but to also look for anything else that looks suspicious. Once you do that, you have to report the activity to each credit bureau to get it removed.
Dispute the credit card fraud
When you need to dispute fraudulent information, it’s a good idea to have a paper trail showing you’ve done your due diligence as best you can. Plus, the new credit card account will probably also have had a negative impact on your credit scores, so you will want that resolved too.
Your best bet is to go directly to the credit bureaus via their websites and fill out the dispute forms there. The dispute forms are simple and straightforward, and they give you an opportunity to comment on the disputed issue.
They limit the number of characters you can use, but at a minimum, explain that someone opened a credit card in your name, and be sure to list the credit card issuer in question. Once the credit agencies confirm the fraud, the disputed item should be removed from your credit report, and your credit scores should be restored to their previous levels.
Make an identity theft report to authorities
You should start by filing an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. In addition, you may want to also go down to your local police department and file a police report as well. The police report may not get you very far in the resolution of your case, but it can be useful in other areas of your credit account fraud.
For example, when you place an initial fraud alert on your credit report, it’s typically only good for 90 days, although you can renew it indefinitely. However, if you want an extended fraud alert, which can last for up to seven years, you need to submit a copy of the police report to the major credit bureaus.
How to prevent identity theft
With identity theft being a very real risk, taking steps to prevent it is always a smart move. Whether you’ve had an incident of identity theft or you just want to be more vigilant, there are a number of things you can do to protect your credit as well as your personal and financial information.
Sign up for identity theft protection services
You basically have three options when it comes to identity theft protection services.
- Free credit monitoring services. These services can be a convenient way to let you know if there is any activity on your credit report. As an added bonus, you can also keep an eye on all your credit accounts and track changes in your credit scores.
- Fraud alert or credit freeze. As mentioned earlier, signing up for a fraud alert, extended fraud alert, or a total credit freeze through the three bureaus is another option to keep identity thieves from getting a credit card in your name or other nefarious activity. Also, some homeowners insurance policies may cover expenses related to identity theft, so that’s another option to consider as a piece of your fraud protection plans.
- Identity theft protection. For a fee, you might want to consider more comprehensive measures with an identity theft protection plan. Rather than just checking your credit report, these services can also monitor for suspicious or fraudulent activity through bank and credit accounts, criminal databases, or other places where your Social Security number is used.
Fortunately, some credit card issuers know how valuable identity theft protection is and incorporate that protection into their cards. Take a look at the following credit cards if you’re looking for a card with additional identity theft protection.
Other ways to protect your personal and financial information
It’s a good idea for identity theft victims (or really anyone concerned about the safety of their personal and financial information), to take some extra steps to prevent fraudulent accounts.
- Consider storing your information in a digital wallet for added security.
- Keep your anti-virus software up to date to help deter fraudsters.
- Always look over statements of your bank accounts and credit card statements for unfamiliar charges.
- Set up multi-factor authentication on your accounts for another layer of security.
- Sign up for account alerts, so you’re aware in real-time whenever a purchase is made with one of your accounts.
- Go over your credit reports regularly to look for any fraudulent accounts.
- Consider switching over to paperless billing or at least collect your mail regularly to avoid postal theft — there’s a lot of vital information contained in your mail.
- Shred credit card applications you receive in the mail — or burn them — rather than just throwing them in the trash or recycling bin where they could fall into the wrong hands.
Can someone open a credit card with just my name and address?
Fortunately, a person cannot open a credit card in your name with just your full legal name and address, which are, incidentally, a matter of public record whether you like it or not. However, they are two pieces of the puzzle if someone is trying to steal your identity or otherwise mess with your credit.
For example, if someone has your name and mailing address, they could theoretically go to the post office and have your mail forwarded to a different address. In this way, they would have access to credit card statements, bank account information, and other sensitive data. The USPS should send a letter to your home verifying that you authorized the change, but it’s always possible that communication could be misconstrued as some kind of junk mail if you’re not expecting it.
- Looking over your credit reports is the quickest way to find out if someone opened a credit card in your name.
- The first thing you should do in the event of identity theft is to contact the credit card issuer to close or freeze the account before any other fraudulent charges can occur.
- Victims of identity theft should also notify the credit reporting agencies, put a fraud alert on their credit reports, and fill out an identity theft report.
- Consumers might also want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring service or putting a credit freeze on their reports for added security.
View Article Sources
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- Identity Theft — USA.gov
- Identity Theft — Federal Trade Commission
- Identity Theft and Financial Fraud — U.S. Department of Justice
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- Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes: Options Against Identity Fraud — SuperMoney
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- Does the Police Investigate Identity Theft (and How To Report It)? — SuperMoney
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- What Should I Do If My Driver’s License Number is Stolen? — SuperMoney
- Can You Reopen a Closed Credit Card? — SuperMoney
- The IRS, Scammers And Identity Theft — SuperMoney
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