Detecting synthetic identity
3. Synthetic ID fraud creates
file variations at the credit bureaus. The other problem
is that synthetic ID fraud creates subfiles at the credit bureaus,
says Hoofnagle. The term subfile, says Evan Hendricks, author
of "Credit Scores and Credit Reports," refers to additional
credit report information tied to a real consumer's Social Security
number, but someone else's name. Because the identifying information
contains some data that's already linked to a particular consumer,
the subfile gets associated with the consumer's main file, or "A"
Subfiles can surface when a creditor checking a consumer's credit report asks for all the possible files related to that consumer -- if they want all the files associated with a particular Social Security number.
The problem comes in when negative information gets
entered under a subfile that is then linked to, but doesn't actually
belong to, you. If you have good credit and derogatory information
is going into your subfile, that could negatively impact your ability
to get credit, he says.
Variations in credit files are
Extra file information is possible because of the way information
gets collected and stored at the credit reporting agencies. "The
algorithms allow for partial matching so they'll accept a Social
Security number that's not exactly the same or a name or address
that's not exactly the same as long as enough things match up,"
Yet variations are not always due to the work of fraudsters, says
Maxine Sweet, Experian's vice president of public education.
"It's not unusual for a Social Security number
to be reported to us that's associated with more than one name,"
she says. "In some cases it might be an indication of fraud,
but in most cases it's just an indication that there were some variations
in the data as it was provided to us."
She says variations can occur due to typos; for instance,
when a creditor types in the information from an application to
request a credit report on a consumer. Two names could also get
associated with one Social Security number; for example, when a
woman changes her name after marriage.
Fraudsters simply take advantage of these misspellings, typos and other natural variations and cash in on them.
What you can do about synthetic
Consumers can employ traditional methods of detecting identity theft:
ordering credit reports and checking them carefully for erroneous
information and accounts that don't belong to them, and keeping
an eye out for suspicious mail.
You also should make sure that creditors, if they
deny you credit, based their decisions on your credit file information