How to Detect and Identify Credit Card Fraud

man wearing glasses and green sweater reading report

Credit card fraud is a type of identity fraud, and between skimmers and scammers, is becoming more prevalent. Just what is credit card fraud, and how can you detect and identify it? Read on to learn more.

Access and monitor your credit reports

Too many people wait until there’s a suspected problem before they try to obtain a copy of their credit report. Plan ahead to monitor your credit, don’t just order a report when you need to investigate. In the U.S., there are three agencies that monitor consumer credit: Equifax , Experian and TransUnion. All of these firms produce distinct reports, and you can access one free copy per year from each of them. If you set up a rolling schedule to get a report from one agency every four months, you can monitor your credit reports all year without having to pay for them. You also have the option of signing up for a credit monitoring service. Either way, comparing information from report to report should help give you a full picture of your credit, and over time you will easily spot errors.

When you review these reports, verify your personal information. Start with your name, birthdate, Social Security number and address. Misspellings and typos can be fairly common, especially if you have a family member with a similar name, but if the data is wildly off, it may be an indication that someone has tapped your credit using fraudulent information. Mistakes and red flags should be reported by contacting each agency directly.

Confirm accounts associated with your name

Your credit report contains a listing of every credit card and loan you have ever had. Comb through every account, flagging anything suspicious or out of character. If you see an account you don’t recall creating, and can’t find supporting documentation for, contact the credit agencies to let them know. You should be familiar with your reports, and they should reflect your past. There’s a chance that anything out of the ordinary wasn’t done by you. Keep track of cards that have been closed or dormant for years, and those with a history of late payments or delinquencies. If you’re meticulous about paying your bills, but your credit report shows you getting dinged for being late on payments, that’s a red flag.

Follow up on credit inquiries

Read your credit reports on a regular basis and you will find that most of the new activity will be inquiries from lenders trying to check your credit. You initiate these inquiries when you apply for a new card or loan, or even when you apply for a new job. Keep track of the inquiries you make. Any that did not originate from an action you took can be a clear sign of fraud.

Once you identify credit card fraud, don’t hesitate to take action

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, you can place an alert on your credit report at any of the three credit monitoring agencies. This will help creditors accurately verify the identification of anyone trying to open a new line of credit in your name. You can even leave a phone number and have them call you directly. If one agency finds fraud, it will report it to the others.

The initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. Those who have had their identities stolen can place an extended seven-year alert that requires a personal phone call to you before any credit is offered in your name. Or you could freeze access to your credit report so creditors can’t even check it. This should stop new accounts from being opened, but it’s still important to keep your eye on existing credit accounts, which can be just as vulnerable.