Many people regularly check their credit reports to see how lenders might view them if they decide to apply for a credit card, mortgage, or personal loan.
But credit reports aren’t just a useful way to see how you’ve handled your finances – they can also show warning signs that you might have been the victim of identity fraud.
The coronavirus pandemic means people are spending a lot more time online doing everyday tasks. This gives criminals the ability to steal people’s information, whether tricking them into providing personal information such as passwords and date of birth, or collecting information from a data breach. They can then take out loans and get into debt on behalf of other people.
People may not be immediately aware that they have been the victim of identity fraud – this may only become apparent when they themselves apply for credit and are turned down.
So how can you do your best to avoid these scams, or at least be alerted to them as soon as possible?
Varun Khanna, Head of Customer Experience for Equifax UK (equifax.co.uk), says: âConsumers can do a lot to resist the persuasion techniques of scammers.
âIf you receive an unexpected email, call or text that doesn’t seem right, it’s important that you close that communication immediately. If this contact attempt is by name of a business or a known friend, you should try contacting them through a number or online service that you are sure belongs to them.
Regularly checking credit reference agency reports can also help you spot loan agreements that you don’t recognize. Equifax recommends that you keep an eye on two things in your reports: thorough lender research and late payments.
A thorough search will show up when a business thinks you’ve given them access to your credit information, meaning that a fraudster requests new credit using your details, this activity will often leave a ‘footprint’.
Even if the criminal requests credit and is rejected, it can still have a negative effect on your credit history as every credit request is logged. Any such action could lower your credit report for up to a year.
When it comes to late payments, if a credit card you rarely use is lost or stolen, you might not immediately realize if a fraudster starts using it.
This can lead to a build-up of unpaid bills and late payments reported to credit bureaus, causing your credit rating to drop significantly which will negatively impact your own ability to take credit.
Your card provider will hopefully send you emails and statements, alerting you to any unexpected payments to come. Credit reference bureaus will also notify customers if any material changes have been made to their credit information.
If you notice a search or late payment that you do not recognize, you should contact the relevant company or your credit reference agency directly for assistance in resolving the issue as soon as possible.
Khanna adds: âBanks, credit providers and a wide range of businesses rely on credit reference agencies to verify that a person applying for credit is who they say they are.
“Millions of these crucial identity checks take place in the background every day to protect us all from identity theft.”
There might be other ways to minimize the risk of having your identity stolen, for example by minimizing the amount of personal information posted on social media. Birthdates, address information, and mothers’ maiden names can be especially helpful to identity thieves.
Equifax said that as part of its service, it also allows customers to access WebDetect – which monitors websites used by scammers to exchange personal information, including the “dark web,” and alerts customers if their information is considered to be at risk.
Users can add email addresses, phone numbers, credit or debit cards, and bank accounts, as well as driver’s license and national insurance numbers.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity fraud, notify your bank or card provider as soon as possible and notify Action Fraud (actionfraud.police.uk)
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