“There are two different types of fraud,” according to Robert Siciliano, McAfee consultant and identity theft expert, “new account fraud and account takeover.” New account fraud is when an individual uses your personal data—social security number, birth date, name, address, etc.—to create new accounts with businesses such as banks, cell phone carriers, or utility companies.
“They can do anything you can do with that information,” Siciliano says.
Account takeover is when another person uses an existing account, whether it’s your credit card, debit card, or banking account to make purchases, transfer money, or even open new accounts. This happened to Wendy M. when someone swiped her credit card number and used it to set up an online trading account. “I found out about the $10,000 account when I received the welcome packet in the mail,” Wendy says.
Both types of fraud are considered identity theft, and in both cases the crime is intrusive, frustrating, and even frightening given the unlimited access identity thieves have to your information and your money; until you find out, that is. But even then, it can be a long and frustrating process to right the wrongs. The key is putting a stop to it as soon as possible.
Aside from checking your statements regularly and practicing safe online shopping techniques, another fundamental way to stay on top of your credit and any potential issues is to take advantage of your free, annual credit report so that you can monitor what’s happening in your financial landscape.
Credit reporting agencies
There are three credit reporting agencies monitoring and gathering data about what you buy and how good you are about paying your debts, they are Experian, TransUnion, and EquiFax. You can go to each individual company and request your credit report or you can go to one place and request all three.
As a consumer, you’re eligible for one free annual credit report from each of these three credit reporting agencies. To make this an easy process for consumers, Experian, TransUnion, and EquiFax joined together to create the online resource, www.annualcreditreport.com.
From this site you can request (via mail, Internet, or phone) that all three credit agencies send reports at one time, or you can request one report from one agency at a time, such as every four months. The site states that there are benefits to either method: If you request them all at one time you can compare and contrast; however, you must then wait a full year before again requesting your free reports. By requesting one report at a time, you can request one every four months and have an ongoing understanding of what’s happening with your credit.
You’re always eligible to request a copy of your credit report; it just may cost you. To request your report, contact each of the following agencies:
- Equifax: 1-877-576-5734; www.alerts.equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com/fraud
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com
Note that your credit score is different from your credit report. There is a cost associated with obtaining your credit score, which is a number based on a mathematical equation that indicates your spending and payment habits and how likely you are to pay back what you owe. You also can request your credit score from the three agencies.