Gephardt: How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft With Your Credit Report

May 15, 2020, 6:41 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 10:02 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The COVID-19 outbreak has become a ripe opportunity for identity theft. Identities have been compromised in scams involving stimulus checks, jobless benefits, vacation cancellations and much more.

Because of the abundance of coronavirus-related scams, the big three credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian – are offering free credit reports every week instead of just once a year.

But credit reports can be confusing, so KSL sought a little translation help from a personal finance counselor at AAA Fair Credit Foundation.

A good place to start is with what’s called the header – usually at the very top. It holds information identifying who you are – name, past addresses, phone numbers, current and previous employers.

Experts said to keep an eye out for addresses you don’t recognize. If it shows you’ve lived in Walla Walla, Washington, for three years, but you’ve never even been there – that could point to identity theft.

Other red flags could show up in the report’s inquiries.

“The biggest thing that you want to look for is the inquiries,” said Talin Larson of AAA Fair Credit Foundation. “This is where you’ll get an insight as to, ‘Alright, who has been looking at my credit’ and so forth.”

Soft inquiries are just from companies wanting to offer you pre-approved credit, or a potential insurer or current lenders peeking at your account.

Larson said to pay closer attention to hard inquiries. Those are made when you – or possibly an impostor using your identity – apply for a credit card, loan or mortgage.

He said if you see something here that doesn’t look right, i.e. a hard inquiry done without your permission — freeze your credit immediately.

“So, if anyone tries to open an account in your name or check your credit, there’s a block there and they’ll (creditor) have to contact you and you’ll have to verify, ‘Yeah, that was me,’” said Larson.

Most of the report is your credit history. There you’ll find open and paid-off accounts, total loan amounts, how much you still owe, any late payments and anything sent to collections.

Double-check the open accounts are ones you’ve actually opened and look for accounts that don’t sound familiar, Larson said. Be sure that none of the accounts listed were opened without your consent.

But realize that sometimes, account names may not quite match what’s on your credit cards or loan papers because lenders do get bought out, or the name shown on the credit report could be a confusing acronym or code. You might have to Google a name or two to make sure the lender information is right.

Larson said if something is not right, dispute it right away.

Say an account you know you closed turns up open on your report. You should write a letter explaining the incorrect information, and send it by certified mail with any document you have proving the mistakes to both the credit bureau and the company that reported the wrong information about you. The bureau only has 30 days to respond.

You can pull your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com – and you can get it free every week until April 2021.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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Gephardt: How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft With Your Credit Report