Want to know an easy way to find out if your aging parents are victims of identity theft? Check their credit reports.
Their credit reports could reveal whether their personal information has been stolen and used to open new accounts in their names. There’s a good chance, though, that your parents haven’t taken the time to check their reports. A 2020 survey by CompareCards found that just 20% of adults 75 and older had reviewed their credit report during the previous year.
So if you’re assisting your parents with money matters, it would be a good idea to help your parents get their reports and review them. Not only will it allow you detect signs of fraud, but also it will help you get a better picture of their finances.
Keep in mind that you can increase your chances of catching identity theft when it happens by signing your parents up for a credit monitoring service rather than relying on infrequent credit report checks. For example, the Carefull app includes credit monitoring along with its account monitoring services that will keep an eye on your parents’ accounts 24/7 for missed and late payments, duplicate payments, changes in spending, unusual transactions and signs of fraud. You can try the service out for free for 30 days to start protecting your parents’ finances.
How to get copies of your parents’ credit reports
Federal law allows Americans to get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—once a year. However, the credit reporting agencies currently are offering free weekly reports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can help your parents access their reports at Annualcreditreport.com. They will need to fill out an online form that requests their names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, current address and previous address (if they’ve lived at their current address for less than two years).
Then they’ll need to confirm their identity by answering a few questions related to their lines of credit, employment or other personal information. They’ll be able to see their reports online and have the option to print them.
If your parents are no longer mentally competent enough to request their reports and you are their power of attorney or court-appointed guardian, you can send a request in writing for copies of their reports. You’ll need to include the following information:
- Your parents’ legal names, address and birthdates
- A copy of their birth certificates
- A copy of their Social Security cards
- Proof of your legal representation or guardianship
- A copy of your driver’s license and current address
- A copy of one of your current utility bills
Mail the requests and necessary documents to all three credit reporting agencies:
- Equifax; P.O. Box 105139; Atlanta, GA 30348-5139
- Experian; P.O. Box 2002; Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion; P.O. Box 2000; Chester, PA 19016
What to look for
Start by reviewing your parents’ personal information on their reports to make sure their names, phone numbers, addresses, years of birth are correct and names of spouses are correct. If you see any errors, you can click the “Start a dispute” link next to the item with the error.
Their credit reports will show all credit card accounts, lines of credit, loans and mortgages in their names. Review each account to ensure that the status of the account (open or closed), the balance owed and payment history are correct. Again, they can dispute any errors they find, such as closed accounts that are listed as open or accounts that are incorrectly listed as late.
Keep an eye out for any accounts they don’t recognize. This could be a sign that their identity has been stolen and used to open accounts in their names. If they are experiencing any memory loss and don’t recognize accounts, check their files first to see if you can find any evidence of those accounts having been opened.
Also be wary if account balances on credit card accounts are higher than what your parents think they should be. This could be a sign that their credit card numbers have been stolen and used to make purchases.
Their credit reports also will show whether there have been soft or hard inquiries on their accounts. Soft inquiries can happen when they check their own credit, when current creditors check their credit and when lenders check their credit for pre-approval. Hard inquiries, on the other hand, only happen if they have submitted an application for a loan or credit. If they haven’t applied for credit lately but there are recent hard inquiries on their report, it could be a sign that someone is using their identity to try to apply for credit.
[Read: How to Protect Your Parents From Scams and Fraud]
How credit monitoring can help
Checking your parents' credit reports can help you spot potential fraud. However, a lot can happen between checks. That's why signing up for a credit monitoring service can be a good idea.
Credit monitoring services will constantly monitor your parents credit reports and alert them of any changes, such as new accounts that are opened. They won't prevent identity theft, but the alerts can give your parents early warnings of potential fraud so they can respond quickly to limit the damage. Some services will also monitor the dark web to detect illegal selling of personal information. And some provide identity theft insurance that can help cover the cost of expenses related to resolving identity theft.
What to do if your parents are victims of ID theft
If you suspect that your parents are victims of identity theft, help them contact the fraud departments of the companies where the accounts were opened or charges were made without their authorization. They should reach out to all three of the credit bureaus to put a security freeze on their reports to prevent further lines of credit from being taken out in their names. They also should file a report with local law enforcement and visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft and get a recovery plan.
Again, taking advantage of technology such as the Carefull app can help quickly catch signs of fraud and identity theft. In addition to credit monitoring, Carefull provides $1 million in insurance and restoration services for subscribers whose identity is stolen.
[Keep Reading: Signs Your Parents Are Victims of Scams or Fraud]