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Detecting synthetic identity fraud

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1. Check your credit reports. First, look for accounts that don't belong and report them to the credit bureaus. Also, watch out for inaccurate versions of your name, address or Social Security number.

While synthetic identity information doesn't always appear on your credit report, "sometimes this stuff will show up," says Hendricks. "It's just case by case. So, it's definitely still a good idea to check your credit report regularly."

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2. Watch your mailbox. Look out for suspicious mail, such as change-of-address notices and credit offers with significant variations on your name. Notify the credit bureaus of your correct name. Contact your post office if you didn't initiate an address change.

3. Monitor your Social Security number. "Credit monitoring doesn't help," says Avivah Litan, a vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc., of its ability to detect synthetic identity fraud. Credit monitoring won't catch instances where the fraudster uses a different name, date of birth or address along with the consumer's real Social Security number.

Instead, there are identity monitoring services out there, such as Intelius and MyPublicInfo that will, for a fee, scour the Web, black market and public records for personal and financial information belonging to the subscriber, such as an address, credit card number or Social Security number. Unlike credit monitoring, the service doesn't rely on a Social Security number matching other identifying information.

They're not all-inclusive, cautions Litan, who says they are only 60 percent to 70 percent reliable at the moment. They're only as good as their data sources, she says, so scrutinize the product's description before you buy.

You can also order a free public records report once a year from ChoicePoint.

To find out if someone is using your Social Security number to obtain employment, you can order your Social Security Statement, which provides a record of the earnings on which you have paid Social Security taxes, online, via snail mail, by calling (800) 772-1213, or by going to your local Social Security Administration office. Call the fraud hot line at (800) 269-0271 if you find earnings you don't recognize.

Consumers cannot find out if another person's consumer credit report is associated with their Social Security number because of privacy issues, Sweet says.

4. Scrutinize credit denial letters. If you get turned down for credit, make sure the decision was based on your file information only. "If they're turning you down and you think there's a possibility they may have gotten the wrong file, look to see if they sent you your letter with all the right identifying information," says Sweet. Follow up with the creditor if the information is wrong and ask them to check your credit again, after they verify your identity, she says.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: May 16, 2007
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