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If you notice unexplained transactions or suspicious activity on one or more of your credit or bank accounts, it's important to act quickly to learn what's happening and take appropriate action in the event of identity theft or other fraud.
Review Your Credit Report and Accounts
If you suspect someone's seeking or opening a bogus credit account in your name, get copies of your latest credit reports from each national credit bureau (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can obtain free reports from all three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each bureau is required by law to provide a free report if you're the victim of identity theft, and Experian also provides monthly reports through CreditWorks℠ Basic, a free service that also offers basic credit monitoring that alerts you anytime your Experian credit report changes.
Information on lenders who've asked for credit checks in response to new credit applications will appear in the "Inquiries" section of your credit report. If you see an inquiry that's unrelated to an application you've made, contact the lender and ask for details on the application.
Loans and credit cards opened in your name will be listed in the "Accounts" section of the credit report. If there are any entries there that you don't recognize, contact the lender immediately so they can begin investigating the matter.
Sometimes unrecognized credit report entries prove innocuous—inquiries or accounts from a bank you don't recognize could be the lender financing your new cellphone, for instance—but if there's no explanation for an entry, work with the lender to get it resolved.
File an Identity Theft Report
If a lender confirms they've received a credit application in your name, or issued a loan or credit to someone using your personal information, report the matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency immediately.
A great starting place is the Federal Trade Commission's fraud-reporting website, IdentityTheft.gov. It provides step-by-step guidance on which authorities to notify concerning different types of identity theft and fraud. You can also contact fraud to the FTC by phone, at 877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338).
Other authorities you may need to contact include:
- Local law enforcement: Start with the department with jurisdiction where you live. You may also need to contact or cooperate with other departments if crimes are believed to have been committed elsewhere.
- The IRS: If you think your Social Security number (SSN) has been stolen and misused, it's possible the thieves will file a bogus tax return in an attempt to claim your refund. You can check to see if this has occurred and report potential abuse at the Internal Revenue Service website or by phoning 800-908-4490.
- The FBI: If you believe your SSN has been stolen, or if you believe your personal data has been used to commit online fraud, file a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- Your state's motor vehicles department: If your driver's license is stolen, it could be used to obtain additional personal credentials including a birth certificate or Social Security Card, so report the loss immediately to your state motor vehicles department.
- The U.S. State Department: If your passport has been lost or stolen, it could fall into the wrong hands and be used to steal your identity. Contact the U.S. State Department passport agency at once.
- The U.S. Postal Service: If you or a relative have been the victim of fraud committed through postal mail, file a report with the Postal Inspection Service as soon as possible.
Place a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze
To secure your credit reports and prevent unauthorized access to loans or credit in your name, you may choose to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit file. Fraud alerts instruct lenders and credit issuers to verify your identity before processing any credit applications made in your name, while credit freezes block potential new creditors (and others) from accessing your credit file at all. Both services are free.
You can read more about the differences between the measures and when either might be appropriate on our blog, but here's an overview:
There are three types of fraud alerts:
- A temporary fraud alert, or initial fraud alert, can be activated by anyone, anytime, for any reason at the Experian Fraud Center webpage or through Experian's automated phone service at 888-397-3742. A temporary fraud alert remains on your credit file for one year unless you remove it sooner, and can be renewed indefinitely.
- An active-duty fraud alert also lasts one year, and is available to U.S. service members on assignment away from home.
- An extended fraud alert, also known as a fraud victim statement, stays on your credit report for seven years before expiring, and is intended for use by victims of identity theft or other credit fraud. When setting one up, you must provide a copy of an identity theft report you've filed with a law enforcement agency.
Security freezes block potential creditors and others legally allowed to view your report and check your credit scores from accessing your credit file. Freezes can prevent unauthorized credit checks (and authorized ones as well) until you lift them, or "thaw" your credit file.
Placing a fraud alert at any one of the three national credit bureaus automatically triggers one at the other two, but you must place security freezes with the three bureaus separately, to set up the PIN or password required to suspend the freeze. (Fraud alert removal requires contacting each bureau separately, as well.)
Dispute Inaccurate Information
If you've confirmed criminal credit activity, reported it to appropriate law enforcement and government agencies and secured your credit report with a credit freeze or fraud alert, you can then focus on getting the inaccurate information removed from your credit reports.
Each of the national credit bureaus has its own procedure for requesting removal or correction of inaccurate information, a process known as a dispute. If the same inaccuracy appears on multiple credit reports, you'll need to submit disputes to each bureau separately to get its report corrected.
When you submit a dispute to Experian, Experian takes the following steps:
- Experian verifies the information you've identified as fraudulent with the creditors or data furnishers that reported the information.
- Upon receipt of a valid police report or state-approved identity-theft form, which you can submit by mail or upload electronically at the Experian Fraud Center, Experian blocks alleged fraudulent information from view by creditors or others using your credit report to check your credit. This allows you to continue to apply for loans or credit without being penalized for fraudulent entries on your report.
- Experian must complete an investigation and report back to you within 30 days (or 45 days if information on your credit report is disputed). The report will indicate:
- Whether lenders have verified the activity you reported as fraudulent (and what their investigation found).
- Any action that has been taken in response to the lender's response to the verification request—including removal of fraudulent entries, revision of entries that reflected fraudulent activity, or (if the lender concluded there was no fraud) restoration of the disputed entries without change.
- In case disputed credit-report entries are not changed to your satisfaction, the report will also provide information on pursuing your dispute further by working with the lender(s) in question.
Additional Identity Theft Resources
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, here are some important contact information that can help you:
- Experian Fraud Division: 888-397-3742
- Equifax Fraud Division: 800-525-6285
- TransUnion Fraud Division: 800-680-7289
- The U.S. Department of Justice's Identity Theft Resource Center.
Unauthorized credit activity could be a sign of identity theft or other fraud, and the key to avoiding fraud and other problems is to act quickly. Experian is available to help, and there are many other resources you can tap to address potential fraud before it does financial harm—or to undo any damage that's been done.