Credit cards are a powerful tool: They can help us build our credit scores to qualify for home and car loans, they can be a lifesaver during financial emergencies, and they may even earn cash back and rewards points.
But credit cards can also be targets for identity theft, in which someone fraudulently uses your name to open a credit card. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cited credit card fraud as the most common type of identity theft in 2022.1
Don’t panic: there’s a lot you can do to prevent credit card fraud from happening and plenty of steps you can take if it happens to you. Below, we’ll walk you through how to know – and what to do – if someone opened a credit card in your name.
Check your credit report
A proven strategy for spotting credit card fraud is to access and read your credit report regularly and look for any incorrect entries. If you spot an account you don’t recognize, the financial institution has made a mistake – or someone has stolen your identity.
Manually checking your credit reports can be time-consuming, however. Free credit monitoring services offer an extra layer of security — and it’s more of a “set it and forget” approach. Just sign up, and these services will let you know when there’s a change in your credit score, when there’s a new inquiry on your report, and when a new account has been opened.
Chime members can also use the Chime app to monitor their FICO® Score.
Common signs someone opened a credit card in your name
Outside of monitoring your credit report (either manually or with a free service), you can watch out for common signs that someone opened a credit card in your name, like if:
- You get mail, an email, a text message, or some other notification about an account you didn’t open.
- You receive a bill for an account you don’t recognize.
- Your credit score drops unexpectedly.
- You apply for credit and are rejected.
- A debt collections agency contacts you about an account in your name that you didn’t open.
What to do if someone opened a credit card in your name
According to Security.org’s 2023 Credit Card Fraud Report, 65% of credit card users in the U.S. have been a victim of credit card fraud at some point in their lives – that’s nearly two-third of American credit card users.²
While the data point is cause for concern, it’s also reassuring: Those 151 million Americans have had their identity stolen, but with the help of the FTC, local authorities, credit bureaus, and credit card companies, they’ve also been able to find a solution to their identity theft. And so can you.
Worried that your identity has been used to open a fraudulent account? Here’s how to report identity theft and avoid long-term damage to your finances:
1. Contact the credit card company
The first step is to contact the credit card company or financial institution through which the fraudster opened the account. Even if you don’t belong to that institution, you can find their fraud department number online and follow their process to report the fraud and close the account.
Some companies may only freeze the account initially, meaning you’ll need to follow up to ensure the account is closed after you’ve gathered more information. For instance, you may not be able to close the account until you have fraud reports from the FTC and police. Regardless, contact the credit card company right away, even before you have these reports – that way, the criminal can’t keep spending money that isn’t theirs.
2. File reports with the FTC and local police
After contacting the credit card company, you’ll need to file an official Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. The website is user-friendly and generates a recovery plan that you can follow after filing.
Once you’ve filed, you can send the Identity Theft Report to the credit card company and distribute it to the credit bureaus as official evidence of the fraud.
The FTC also suggests filing a police report with your local police department. Visit the police in person, and bring your Identity Theft Report. While the local police will not likely be able to make any arrests, they can provide you with yet another official report that will help your case.
3. Alert the credit bureaus
Contact all three major credit bureaus to let them know the new account is fraudulent and should not appear on your credit report. The links below will take you to the dispute hub for each of the bureaus:
4. Initiate a fraud alert or a credit freeze
If you’ve been the victim of credit card fraud, the FTC advises placing a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit report. You only have to do this at one of the three credit bureaus; the bureau where you set the alert must contact the other two bureaus on your behalf.
When you have a fraud alert on your account, businesses must take extra steps to confirm your identity before issuing a new credit account in your name.
Anyone can set a free, one-year initial fraud alert – and you don’t even need the FTC Identity Theft Report to do it. But if you want a free extended fraud alert (that will last for seven years), you’ll need an official report from the FTC or police.³
In addition, you can freeze your credit (you’ll have to do this individually at all three credit bureaus). When your credit report is frozen, you won’t be able to open any new credit accounts in your name – but neither will anyone else. You’ll need to unfreeze your credit (called a thaw when it’s temporary) before applying for a loan.
5. Update your security best practices
While it may not be possible to know how a fraudster accessed your personal information, there are steps you can take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
For starters, assume all your passwords have been compromised and update them accordingly. Use password best practices (including unique passwords for every account!) when changing your login info.
Consider using a password vault (protected by a strong master password and two-factor authentication) like the iCloud Keychain, Google Password Manager, or apps like 1Password to help create and manage random, strong, and unique passwords.
You can also opt into security features offered by each account. For instance, a mobile banking app may offer two-factor authentication and instant transaction alerts.
Finally, begin monitoring your credit report regularly, either through the free credit reports from the major credit bureaus or through a credit monitoring service.
How to prevent credit card fraud
Credit card fraud is often avoidable if you’re proactive. No plan is foolproof, but by following a few tips to prevent identity theft, you can reduce your chances of having someone open a credit card in your name.
- Get free credit monitoring: Credit monitoring services do the hard work for you, tracking changes to your accounts and your credit report and flagging anything that looks fishy.
- Check reports yourself: It never hurts to do some manual checks throughout the year. You can get a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus at least once a year.
- Freeze or lock your credit: A credit freeze or lock can stop fraudsters from applying for credit in your name.
- Be cautious with your personal information: Use strong passwords, only shop on trusted websites, and protect yourself from online scammers.
- Choose the right financial institution: When vetting a new bank, credit union, credit card issuer, or fintech company, don’t just look at interest rates and fees. Those are important, but you also want to choose a company that prioritizes your financial security with features like FDIC insurance, instant transaction disabling, two-factor authentication, and real-time alerts.
- Educate yourself: Stay on top of common financial scams, like scams that target Chime members, so you can spot and avoid fraud attempts.
In addition to opening a new credit account in your name, fraudsters can also steal your current credit card information and use that to make purchases. Luckily, you’re only liable for up to $50 in fraudulent credit card charges,4 and some credit card networks like Visa®, Mastercard, and Discover offer zero-dollar liability. Chime cards are backed by Visa’s Zero Liability Policy.5
Stopping fraudsters in their tracks
Acting fast is key when someone has stolen your credit card information. Regularly reviewing your credit card statements and setting up instant transaction alerts on your smartphone can help stop criminals before they use your card more than once. Stay up to date on common fraud and scams so you know what to look for.
Are you liable if someone opened a credit card in your name?
If someone opened a credit card in your name, you can take steps to avoid a significant impact on your credit scores and liability for the charges. Act as fast as possible. Contact the credit card company to close or freeze the fraudulent account, file reports with the FTC and local police, and dispute the account with the credit bureaus to ensure the activity does not impact your credit scores.
What do I do if someone gets a credit card in my name?
If someone gets a credit card in your name, there are straightforward steps you can take to fix the problem:
- Contact the credit card company to freeze or close the account.
- File reports with the FTC and local authorities.
- Alert all the credit bureaus to fix your credit reports.
- Place fraud alerts on your credit and consider freezing your credit reports as well.
- Be proactive about protecting your information going forward.
How can someone open a credit card in my name?
Fraudsters can open a credit card in your name if they have access to personal information like your name, birthday, and Social Security number. Criminals sometimes access this information through data breaches and phishing attempts.
What to do if a family member opens a credit card in my name?
While we expect cyber criminals to try to steal our data, we may be less prepared for the fact that friends and family could commit identity theft against us, but it does happen. Children and seniors are especially susceptible to identity theft by loved ones.
The steps are the same as any other type of identity theft: contact the credit card company, file reports with the FTC and police, and follow up with the credit bureaus.
You may be tempted not to report the theft because you want to protect your loved one, but this could have a major impact on your finances.