We often hear about the importance of staying on top of our credit reports. We’re encouraged to request a copy of our history from the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, but how many know what they’re looking for aside from the obvious? Would you know how to identify fraud? How about identity theft? This week, we explore some of the tricks of the trade and what you should be looking for in order to keep any potential damage to a minimum.

Tell Tale Signs

If you’re one who checks his credit report, without fail, every year, are you also looking for one of the tell tale signs of identity fraud? Most of us go straight to the numbers and fail to double check our name, social security number and other information that falls within that category. Even the appearance of a middle initial that you never use could suggest someone is attempting to steal your identity.

The Ex Factor

One woman received a phone call from a creditor who told her she qualified for the $10,000 loan she’d inquired about. Everything sounded on the up and up, right down to the fact that her ex-husband would be on the account. While she was no longer married to him, it didn’t send up red flags right away because they’d only been divorced a year. Turns out, her ex husband’s new wife shared more than the same tastes in men. They both are named Danielle. The new wife had weak credit and saw an opportunity when the loan officer assumed she was the first wife. The new wife ran with it and went so far as to put the first wife’s initial in front of the “Danielle” so it would further cement the loan officer’s assumption that she was dealing with the first missus. This is a perfect example of why it’s important to check those small details like initials showing up when you don’t routinely sign contracts, checks or other financial documents with that initial. Also, double check to ensure your name is spelled properly, too. It could be nothing more than a mix up on the part of the credit bureau, but you need to get to the bottom of it. Addresses you’ve never lived at should also send up a red flag.

Alarms Sounded

Have you noticed there’s an account that’s showing up that you know you didn’t open? That’s definitely a scenario that should sound all of the alarms. Creditors can’t open an account on your behalf with the hopes that you’ll take advantage of it. If you notice something like that, you can be sure it was a deliberate effort and it could be you’re now a victim of fraud and identity theft. If you have two Visa credit card accounts, be sure you recognize both of them and pay attention to the high limit and the balance. The reason being someone could have requested another card on a legitimate account you opened and once they secured the new card, they could have requested a limit increase, too.

There’s also a section on each credit report that includes any hits that resulted in your credit information being collected. Be sure to look closely at this section and if you see inquiries from companies you never requested, it might be time to delve further into the situation. Credit reporting agencies are required by law to disclose the names of anyone or any company that obtained your credit information in the past twenty four months. There is one caveat: you may notice account reviews or promotional reviews. These are from companies wishing to offer pre-approved financial products like credit cards. They’re not gaining a look into your credit, but rather, those inquiries are used to legitimize their potential new customer.

One more thing to keep in mind here: Sometimes the name of the company checking your credit won’t match the name of the place where you applied for credit. For example, you may apply for an instant credit account to buy furniture at XYZ Furniture, but the financing is handled through ABC Financial Services – and that’s who is listed in the inquiries section of your report.


If you’ve cosigned for someone, that account will show on your credit report. The good news is because it’s showing up, there’s a good chance it will provide an opportunity to ensure your good deed isn’t going to bite you. If it is showing (and co signed accounts don’t always show on your report) you can look t be sure payments are being made on time.

If you discover that your identity has been compromised or if there’s fraudulent information, you will also be able to request credit reports at no cost and more frequently than once a year until the problems have been resolved. Remember too that the sooner you catch fraudulent activity, the sooner you’ll be able to get it resolved. Assume nothing and remain proactive in your efforts. The credit bureaus won’t catch these errors – especially considering a large number of consumer credit reports have errors on them. There’s just no way for the bureau to verify every single transaction on every single credit report.

Report Problems

That said, any suspicious activity you discover should be reported right away to the bureau that’s reporting it. It will investigate your claim and remove it if it’s found to be an illegal or fraudulent account. Here’s where things can get a bit complicated. There’s a startling number of identity fraud victims who learn it’s a family member that’s been up to no good. If an investigation is opened, you likely won’t be able to unring that bell. Any creditor that has been defrauded will likely pursue charges and won’t need your blessing to do so. Unfortunately, victims don’t learn who is behind the illegal activities until the credit and law enforcement finds the culprit – and by then, it’s too late. With 26 million Americans out of work, there are many desperate folks who find themselves taking incredible risks that jeopardize their futures and wreak havoc on those who were in the line of fire.

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