ABC’s of ID Theft

Recently a client came to us with questions about ID theft and a very unusual situation that he experienced. Since most people would not expect this to occur I thought it is a great example to share. This was his question to us:

About six months ago I wound up having to stay in a hospital for minor surgery. Everything went well and there were no issues with my physical health, however, my credit health took a dip. I recently learned the hospital had an employee that stole and sold patients personal information including, social security numbers, addresses, etc. Last week, I found out that someone had opened three cell phone accounts in my name and took out insurance on the phones as well. What should I do to protect myself?

Identity theft is one of the most popular crimes that consumers fall victim to. The first step is to contact the cell phone company and make sure they know this is fraud. Ask them to guide you through the steps to be taken. They will also give you a fraud package or form which you will fill out and send back to them. Make sure to keep a copy in a file for yourself, jot down the names and ID numbers of all you speak to (noting what was said), and get something in writing from the creditor confirming acknowledgment of the fraud. You must also make a police
report and keep a copy with your records.

You should also order your credit reports from You are entitled to a free copy annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. By ordering these reports you will not hurt your credit score at all. When you receive the reports look through them carefully taking note of any accounts you do not recognize. At the end of the reports there will usually be a section showing “inquiries viewed by others” and “inquiries viewed by you”. The first type is the one of concern. It is a list of creditors who have pulled your credit and may have approved the opening of accounts in your name. If you see any accounts or inquiries that you do not recognize call the creditor for further investigation. It is also a good idea to call all your creditors and alert them as to what has occurred. This allows them to watch for suspicious activity and protects you from liability if the thieves have more information than you realize. There is no need to close accounts if there has not been theft activity.

You must place a Fraud Alert on your credit. Fraud Alerts are a way to let creditors know precaution must be taken before allowing the opening of credit in your name. A note will be listed on your credit profile alerting all creditors to contact you directly before approving credit. Once you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau the others will be notified automatically.

In many cases when a creditor or hospital has a breach of security like this they offer a free credit monitoring product to consumers at risk. This allows them to watch their credit daily. Most of these monitoring products offer access to fraud alert protection as well. Take the monitoring product if offered and it will guide you through listing a fraud alert on your credit. If a monitoring product is not offered you can go to any of the 3 bureaus listed below and fill out a fraud alert form directly. There are two types of fraud alerts: 90 day and 7 year extended. It is best to take the extended one for extra protection if you can. All of the bureaus offer credit monitoring products for purchase as well. If you did not get a free credit monitoring offer it is a good idea to buy your own monitoring product. This will give you continued security and credit management in case other items pop up that have not yet been reported. If you live in NY and ID theft insurance is offered with these products make sure to read the fine print since most exclude NY residence from coverage.

1. Experian: 1-888-525-6285, to add an alert and view your report immediately.

2. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285,

3. TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289,

For more information and details about ID theft and protection visit:

Also filing a complaint with the FTC may help to catch criminals nationwide:

When Condsidering Credit Monitoring…

Carl has a Home Depot account and keeps a balance under $30.00. One month he decided to purchase a $300.00 item. The alert from the credit monitoring company says:

“A balance on your credit profile has increased 300 percent.”

Carl cannot see his exact state of credit at this time without ordering a full, up-to-date credit report. He panics and starts calling all of his creditors. It wasn’t until 4 hours went by that he realizes it was his Home Depot card.

If the credit monitoring product is not clear enough to explain the specifics of the alert it could do more harm than good. Some monitoring products only alert you and do not show a full report status, like with what happened to Carl; it alerted him that a change has occurred but didn’t tell him the details, leaving him in a panic.

To use a monitoring product well a consumer must understand how to read their credit profile and many people are too busy to even learn about their credit. They think that paying a company to watch their credit will insure them against any problems.

Here are some fast facts about credit monitoring programs and different things that may or not be offered depending on the company…

Some companies only provide you with info on 1 out of the 3 reporting agencies. This can leave you in the dark if a collection is reported on one of the other ones.

You may be updated of an alert when a 3rd party pulls your credit profile if you are shopping for a car, home, or business loan.

You may be updated with an alert when you open or close an account or have a new late payment.

Alerts come when balances change; although without having details can = Consumer Panic

Credit is not stagnant; changes can occur daily, weekly, and/or monthly depending on the activity of your credit profile.

Credit monitoring cannot protect you from being a victim of identity theft or fraud

Just typing this is making me anxious. Sounds overwhelming and it is. And there is much more information out there than the brief synopsis I am posting. What I can offer you now is the suggestion to educate yourself. If you don’t have the time or desire to learn the intricacies of how scores change I am going to plug the boutique-style credit monitoring product we created for consumers who want personalized service from our credit experts. We keep a watchful eye on changes to the credit files and contact each individual when/if suspicious activity occurs. There are other companies and products out there, just do your research! And why not start with a trusted source to help you, —- > learn more —— >

Credit Monitoring

I ended last week with a post about fraud and identity theft. Again, it is important to take as many necessary precautions as possible to protect yourself and your credit. In addition to the tips I suggested last week, I wanted to add some insight into what a Credit Monitoring program is and what it can offer you in relation to fraud.

I want to start by saying that while a credit monitoring program can offer many positives it does NOT stop fraud from occurring. It is a way to see what is occurring on your credit at any given time depending on the program you choose. Once it happens it is already too late. However, these alerts help consumers react faster and can save some frustration.

It is good to be aware that those accounts are usually in default; so if you see accounts that are in good standing but aren’t yours on your credit profile it probably isn’t identity theft. It is possible with common names (relatives) that accounts can be listed with the wrong person.

Credit monitoring CAN alert you when new activity has been generated:

Balances change
Accounts are opened or closed
Your score fluctuates
Fraud alerts
Inquiries and reviews of credit
Changes in personal information

Credit monitoring can be a valuable tool and in future posts I will touch on it a bit more but I just wanted to offer the simple tip that it cannot protect you from identity theft or credit card fraud. It can only tell you that it is occurring.