Key takeaways

  • If someone opens a credit card in your name, you need to take steps to protect your finances immediately.
  • Start by calling the credit card issuer associated with the account and freezing your card. You can then work with the issuer to close the account.
  • You’ll then have to check your credit reports and begin doing damage control to make sure this act of identity theft hasn’t harmed your credit score or made your finances vulnerable to future fraud attempts.

When it comes to identity theft and fraud, there are seemingly endless ways you might be targeted. For example, a criminal with enough of your personal information may be able to file a tax return in your name, take out a payday loan or even take over accounts you have, changing your contact information to another mailing address they control.

Another type of fraud takes place when thieves open a credit card account in your name. In fact, new credit card account fraud was so prevalent in 2023 that it made up 42 percent of all identity theft complaints that year, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Fortunately, you do have rights if you’re a victim of this type of fraud. There are also steps you can take to find out if someone opened a credit card in your name. We outline those steps, plus additional measures that you can take to prevent future instances of fraud, in this guide.

How to find out if someone opened a credit card in your name

There are several steps you can take to find out if someone has opened a credit card account (or any other loan) in your name. Consider the following moves if you’re worried about existing account fraud and future prevention:

Pull your credit reports

The best way to find out if someone has opened an account in your name is to pull your own credit reports to check. Note that you’ll need to pull your credit reports from all three bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to check for fraud since each report may have different information and reporting.

You can get access to your credit reports from all three credit bureaus for free using the website AnnualCreditReport.com.

Check your reports in detail

Once you have accessed all three of your credit reports, take the time to look over each one in detail. Make sure every account listed on your reports is yours and that the account balances and other details listed are also correct.

If you don’t recognize an account, you’ll need to report it right away. However, you should be aware that you can (and should) dispute any incorrect information and errors on your credit reports, including incorrect balances or accounts reported as open that are actually closed.

How to report identity theft

If you find an account on your credit reports that doesn’t belong to you, there are three possible explanations. It’s always possible you don’t recognize an account that is actually yours or that your account has been confused with someone else’s with a similar name. An increasingly likely answer, though, is that you are a victim of fraud.

If the latter situation turns out to be true, and you discover an account on your credit reports you definitely did not open, you’ll want to take steps to halt the damage right away.

Reporting identity theft by someone you don’t know

To report identity theft when you don’t know who’s the culprit, follow these steps:

  1. Call your credit card issuer. In cases of fraud, you should start by calling the company where the fraud took place — in this case, the credit card issuer. Explain to the credit card issuer that someone opened an account in your name and that they are trying to steal your identity.
  2. Ask your issuer to freeze your account. You’ll want to confirm with your issuer that there’s no way for anyone to charge new purchases to the account. At this point, your issuer will help you take steps to close the account since it was opened via fraud.
  3. Update your passwords.  Take the time to change the logins and passwords on all your other online accounts where you have financial information, like a credit card, linked to the profile.
  4. Activate fraud alerts on your credit reports. Your next step in preventing credit card fraud is placing a fraud alert on your credit reports, which you can do for one year without any charge. You can place a fraud alert using the following contact information for each of the credit bureaus:

  5. Report the fraud to the FTC. Next, you’ll want to report the identity fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which you can do with this online form or by calling 877-438-4338. The FTC also suggests you may want to take the additional step of filing a police report in your municipality.

Once you have taken these initial steps, you need to follow up to make sure the identity theft is stopped in its tracks. Additional steps include:

  • Closing any other new accounts opened in your name. With your FTC Identity Theft Report in hand, you need to call each company with fraudulent accounts in your name and ask for them to be closed. Make sure to keep track of who you spoke to and when, and keep any letters associated with the closures.
  • Remove bogus charges. Any new accounts with charges in your name should be disputed. Tell the company you did not make the charges, explain that they are fraudulent and ask for the bogus charges to be removed.
  • Fix your credit reports. Contact the credit bureaus and use your FTC Identity Theft Report to have fraudulent accounts removed from your credit reports.

Reporting identity theft by someone you know

While identity theft is often perpetrated by online hackers and thieves you’ve never met, it’s also common for someone you know to be the culprit. If a friend, a relative or a colleague at work could be the one who stole your identity, you’ll want to use the same steps above to report the fraud — while also being sure to file a police report. It’s likely they will face criminal charges for their acts, but you should report the crimes just the same.

What happens to my credit if I’m a victim of identity theft?

One of the common hurdles of identity theft is the potential for damage to your credit score, but you may also be on the hook for financial losses. Your liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card is limited to just $50, but your liability for fraudulent purchases made with your debit card or debit card number could be unlimited if you report the fraud more than 60 days after your banking statement was mailed to you, according to the FTC.

The good news is you can use a formal process to dispute fraudulent information and credit card accounts that arise from identity fraud. You may notice initial damage to your credit score if someone opens an account in your name and racks up charges they don’t pay for, but your credit score should rebound once the credit bureaus have removed the fraudulent accounts from your reports.

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Keep in mind:

Many credit card issuers advertise some level of fraud protection, such as a $0 liability policy. So depending on your issuer’s rules, you may not be liable for any fraudulent purchases at all. Check your card agreement to understand how your issuer handles fraudulent charges.

Preventing future credit card fraud

When it comes to identity theft, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some of the best steps you can take now to prevent credit card fraud and other types of identity theft in the future:

Consider signing up for identity theft protection

Identity theft protection companies like Identity Guard and ID Watchdog will oversee your credit reports and keep an eye out for fraud on your behalf. These companies charge a monthly or annual fee in exchange for their services, but many also offer identity theft insurance that can protect you from financial losses and help pay for experts who can assist with the identity restoration process.

You also might be able to get additional fraud protection monitoring from your credit card issuer, so look into what’s already included with your account before paying for something else.

Activate a credit freeze or extended fraud alert

The FTC suggests setting up a one-year fraud alert once you notice signs of identity theft, but you can also ask the credit bureaus for an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years. As an alternative, you can also set up a credit freeze with each of the credit bureaus, which will prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name until you personally take steps to “unfreeze” your reports.

Fortunately, anyone can freeze their credit reports or set up fraud alerts for free — even if they have never been a victim of identity theft.

Take additional steps to protect your personal information

There are other steps you can take to prevent hackers and thieves from getting their hands on your personal information in the first place. These include:

  • Using a mobile wallet. A mobile wallet can help you protect your credit card account information by making it harder for a thief to steal information from your physical card.
  • Setting up multi-factor authentication on your accounts when available. Having additional authentication methods will mean that a thief needs more than just your password to unlock your accounts.
  • Signing up for transaction alerts. These will alert you every time you make a purchase with your card, so you’ll know right away if someone used your card information without your permission.
  • Taking the time to look over your credit reports. By doing this several times per year, you can catch discrepancies and other red flags before a thief does too much damage to your credit score.
  • Installing antivirus software on your devices. Computer viruses are still common ways for hackers to access your information, so having a good antivirus software installed can help you avoid those issues.

You should also collect your mail every day, place a hold on your mail when you travel away from home for several days and check to make sure you’re receiving the bills you should be. Paying special attention to your billing cycles can also be helpful since you’ll know right away if one of your bills is missing and you can contact the sender, according to U.S. government sources on identity theft.

The bottom line

By keeping a close eye on your accounts and making sure your information isn’t easy to find, you can avoid becoming a repeat victim of identity theft. If you regularly make a habit of checking your credit card statements and credit report, you will be more likely to catch suspicious activity before the culprit wreaks too much havoc on your finances.

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