The Top Problem With Identity Theft? Getting New Credit

By Christine DiGangiLifestyle and

After having your identity stolen, one of the biggest problems you’re likely to face is having trouble getting new loans or credit cards, because the thief has damaged your credit score. You’ll eventually be able to remove the fraud-related information from your credit report, and as a result, it won’t hurt your scores anymore, but in the meantime, it could derail your plans for buying a home, getting a new car or applying for a credit card.

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Of all the things identity theft victims experienced after discovering the crime, credit problems were the most common, according to a survey of victims conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center. The center’s “Aftermath 2013″ report is based on responses from 201 victims in 39 states who contacted the center in 2013, so while it’s not a nationally representative look at identity theft victims, it gives a good idea of the issues victims frequently face when recovering from this common crime.

Of the 179 victims who shared how identity theft has affected their lives, 32.4% said they experienced difficulty getting loans or credit cards. That was the most common obstacle. The next most common answers (after “other” and “none of these apply”) were problems opening new financial accounts (22.9%) and receiving calls from debt collectors for debts incurred by the thief (22.3%).

The road to recovery was long and stressful for many people, as several victims expressed difficulty clearing their credit reports, either because they weren’t sure how to do it or the fraud kept getting reported to the credit bureaus, even after it had been removed.

For that reason (and many others), it’s incredibly helpful to stop identity theft as soon as possible. While most people find out someone stole their identity within six months of the crime starting, a large portion of victims are unaware of what’s going on for years, making the damage more difficult to reverse.

No matter if you’ve never had your identity stolen or if you’re trying to move past an experience with identity theft, it’s crucial to monitor your credit for signs of fraud. You can get your free annual credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies, and you can get two of your credit scores for free on with updates every 30 days. By watching your credit scores, you’ll notice a sudden change soon after what caused it is reported to the credit bureaus, allowing you to quickly investigate what’s behind the shift and stop any unauthorized activity you may discover.

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record.