In the fight against identity theft, your credit report is an invaluable tool. From the moment you first applied for a loan or opened a line of credit, the Canadian credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, began assembling your credit file, where they documented your borrowing and payment behavior ever since. While the sheer amount of data it contains may be overwhelming, it is precisely that level of comprehensiveness that makes it so useful for spotting certain signs of fraud.
If an ID thief gains access to your personal or financial information, he or she may use it to assume your identity, open new lines of credit and rack up massive amounts of debt in your name. While there is little physical evidence of this type of theft, its effects may be clearly documented in your credit report. To review your credit file for signs of fraud, the first step is to request a copy.
The bureaus are required by law to provide every Canadian access to his or her credit report once every 12 months for no charge. With a report on file at each bureau, this gives you a chance to check your credit every six months, or to receive both copies at the same time once a year. Ordering them simultaneously allows you to compare the content in one report against the other, making it easier to spot inconsistencies between the two that may indicate fraud. On the other hand, requesting each file at a different point during the year gives you the opportunity to check in on your credit more frequently, meaning you could catch signs of fraud earlier. Both methods have their merits, it’s just important to take advantage of the free report and check your credit at least once a year.
As you review the information in your credit file, make a note of any errors, including unfamiliar payments, accounts or transactions. Not every error is an indication of fraud, but it is important to follow up with the credit bureaus to dispute any mistakes in your file. Once you contact the credit bureau, they will contact the lender in question to determine whether the statement is, in fact, inaccurate. If that is the case, they will correct your statement immediately.
If you believe the errors in your report may be the result of identity theft, there are several measures you can take to secure your accounts. When you reach out to the credit bureau, request that they place a fraud alert on your account. Then, any lenders who receive credit requests under your name will be met with a statement explaining that your account may have been compromised and that they should take extra precautions before approving the request. They then typically reach out to you directly to confirm that you requested the new line of credit. These fraud alerts, or credit alerts, last 90 days and can typically be placed for no charge.
If you have been targeted by identity thieves before and want to further lock down your account, a credit freeze may be in order. These usually cost a fee to activate, but can restrict an identity thief from opening any new lines of credit without your unique “access code.”
To reap the benefits of credit monitoring even when you can’t access your credit report, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service like Credit Alert. We can alert you if your credit files show certain activity that may indicate fraud, giving you a chance to fight back. To learn more, contact us today.