Elizabeth Kiss, faculty member in Kansas State University’s Department of Family Studies and Human Services, recommends that consumers monitor their credit card accounts, bank accounts and insurance statements on a regular basis and contest any charges that are not correct.

Elizabeth Kiss, faculty member in Kansas State University’s Department of Family Studies and Human Services, recommends that consumers monitor their credit card accounts, bank accounts and insurance statements on a regular basis and contest any charges that are not correct. True identity theft — when someone falsely uses another person’s identity and financial information — can be difficult to prove.
“If you live in Kansas, and activity is happening somewhere else that you have no connection to, then it may be easier to prove,” Kiss said, “but those who have accounts in several states may be more open to identity theft.
“If you always use the same version of your name, you might be able to recognize changes,” she added. “The best protection is to keep track of what is happening with your own accounts. Open your mail. Go online to review your statements. Check your credit report — an explanation of your credit history — regularly. Look for purchases you don’t recognize.”
Three credit reporting bureaus exist, and you can get one free report from each bureau every year. Kiss recommends using one of those free reports every four months.
“Different entities report to different credit reporting bureaus,” she said. “Some information will be reported in all three, and some information may only be in one. This is why it’s important to use all three bureaus.”
Also, consumers should remember the difference between a credit report and a credit score. The information in the credit report influences the credit score, but the credit score is typically important if you plan to purchase a house or car, as examples.
“The score is important if you will be making a big purchase, and it can affect your insurance rates also,” Kiss said. “For most of us, this constant monitoring of our credit score is not that important. More important is what is on your credit record.”
She said consumers should also remember that a credit report is an individual report. For those who are married, both individuals should monitor their own credit and obtain their own credit reports.
The Stanford Financial Fraud Research Center estimates that $50 billion is lost to financial fraud every year, but financial fraud can also take a toll on human health.
A survey conducted last year by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation found that 65 percent of self-reported fraud victims experienced at least one serious non-financial cost, including severe stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and depression.
In addition, nearly half of the victims blamed themselves for the fraud.
“While it is important for all of us to take action to protect our personal information, we also need to remember that it is an ongoing process,” said Kiss. “We are likely not able to control who has access to our information.”
Twenty-nine percent of the victims reported incurring indirect costs of more than $1,000, which could include, for example, fees for late payments and bounced checks. Nine percent reported declaring bankruptcy after facing financial fraud.
More information about knowing your credit is available in a fact sheet through the K-State Research and Extension Bookstore.