credit card has been opened in your nameWells Fargo has been in the news recently after it was announced that more than 5,300 employees at branches across the country have been fired due to their involvement in scamming customers to meet their sales quotas. Among the violations Wells Fargo employees committed was the fraudulent opening of credit card accounts in customers’ names — and it’s a practice that’s been happening since 2011. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has fined Wells Fargo $100 million for the fraud, and customers who were defrauded will be notified and possibly receive compensation. The sad reality is scamming bank employees and nameless cybercriminals aren’t the only ones to worry about when it comes to credit card fraud — a quick Google search reveals thousands of results for people whose own family members or close friends opened up credit cards in their names and destroyed their credit in the process. Owning credit cards can be a smart way to build and maintain healthy credit, but credit cards you don’t know about are a fast track to credit destruction. How can you know if a credit card has been opened in your name, and what can you do about it when you make such a discovery?

Signs you’ve had a credit card opened in your name

It can be difficult to impossible to tell when fraudulent accounts are opened in your name, especially since not all creditors report to the credit bureaus on the same timeline (and not all creditors report to all three bureaus). However, eventually, most credit in your name will show up on your credit reports sooner or later. That’s why it’s so important to continuously monitor your credit reports, so you’ll be more likely to take notice if new revolving credit or collections account appears that you don’t recognize.

Another tip-off can be found in your mailbox. A bill for a credit card account you know you’ve never opened is an obvious sign something is amiss, but you should also be on the alert for an increase in pre-approved credit card offers. These are often targeted based on the credit cards you have in your name and recent activity, so if you start getting a lot of them when you haven’t opened any new credit recently, it’s worth being a little suspicious. Checking out your credit reports can be the best way to confirm your suspicions.

What can you do once you’ve determined you’re a victim of credit card fraud?

Credit card fraud can be treated a lot like most other types of identity theft. Your first step should be to contact the three credit bureaus and place a fraud alert or even request to have your credit frozen entirely. It’s also worth your while to file a police report, as credit card fraud is illegal and this can also help you when it comes to disputing the credit card and any charges associated with it. Once you’ve established the fraud with the credit bureaus and law enforcement, contact the creditor(s) and explain that you’ve been a victim of fraud. Dispute any balances that show up on your credit reports, and make sure you follow up with the creditors and credit bureaus in writing to cover your bases.

You will also want to be sure to regularly monitor your credit reports, as where there’s one fraudulent credit card account, there may be others — as well as other types of identity theft.

How can future fraud be prevented?

Identity theft is unfortunately a sad reality of today’s world, and there’s no way to completely prevent it. However, there are a few steps you can take to make this and other types of fraud less likely to befall you.

1. Place a freeze on your credit accounts. This will ensure that nobody can open up new lines of credit in your name, which can be helpful if you aren’t sure exactly how identity thieves accessed your information. It’s important to remember that credit freezes take some time to “thaw,” so you should do your homework and give yourself plenty of time in the event you want to unfreeze them so you can apply for new credit. Alternatively, you can place a fraud alert on your accounts, which requires businesses to contact you to verify your identity before issuing new credit. These expire after 90 days, so you’ll need to remember to renew any you placed, if you so desire.

2. Shred all mail, receipts and other paperwork. Pre-approved credit card offers, old bills, receipts from purchases, etc. are all loaded with personal information that can be used by a savvy thief to apply for credit in your name. Make it a practice to destroy all paperwork before tossing it out so it can’t be used. A cross-cut shredder is the best tool for the job, as it ensures that the remaining pieces can’t be reassembled once they’ve been shredded.

3. Monitor your credit throughout the year. While you should definitely take advantage of your annual free credit reports entitled by law through AnnualCreditReport.com, only checking your reports once a year means you could be missing key evidence that you’ve been the victim of fraud for many months. Credit monitoring services provide regular access to your credit reports and scores, as well as day-to-day monitoring to notify you of any significant changes — such as a new line of credit. As an added bonus, many of the top-rated services also provide excellent identity theft protection tools, such as Internet black market monitoring of your personal information to ensure it’s not being bought, traded or otherwise misused online. In addition, some of the top-rated credit monitoring services offer free trials, which mean you can try the service out for free, then determine if it’s worth the monthly payment.

Catching a fraudster in action is difficult, but doing what you can to prevent fraud while also watching out for signs that you’ve been a victim can help make dealing with it less painful. Follow our credit monitoring blog to learn more about how to protect your credit.