Here’s a heads-up: Your credit reports are not easy to read or understand. They are made up of a hodge-podge of company names, numbers, credit lines, payment history and more. These figures, at best, are difficult for the lay person to comprehend. Professionals that review your credit reports to decide if they want to loan you money to buy a car for example, are much more skilled at reading them. That’s part of their job. But for the rest of us, it’s another story.

You should, however, be able to determine if someone has stolen your identity and used it to open new accounts, such as credit card, or obtained a loan in your name.

If this has happened, you will see entries for these accounts indicating that your credit was checked (credit report inquiry) and if the account was opened, there should be a notation of when it was opened, the amount of credit that was issued and history of payment on the debt.

What you are looking for is accounts that you are not familiar with and did not open yourself. For example, let’s say you have a credit card issued by “Joe’s Big Screen TVs” and that you applied for the credit card when you bought an HDTV six months back. There should be a record of when that credit was issued and how well you are meeting the terms of paying the loan back. That would be a normal entry in your credit report.

If you see that same entry, but you didn’t buy a TV at Joe’s, or you see any other entry that you did not initiate, you have been a victim of identity theft. The specific type of identity theft here, is called “new account fraud.”

If you have determined that you are the victim of new account fraud, here is what you need to do:

  1. Advise all three credit reporting agencies that this has happened and the specific new accounts that you did not authorize.
  2. File a police report about the fraud. This can usually be done over the phone. Ask for a copy of the police report as you will need this for reasons I will discuss in my next post.