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When you find incorrect information on your credit report, how do you know if it's a simple mistake or something more sinister? Here are some warning signs that you could be a victim of credit fraud.

Your personal information is wrong. A mistake in your personal information could be due to something as simple as a transposed number. It could mean your credit information has been mixed up with that of someone who shares your name. Or it could be a sign that someone is pretending to be you to get credit.

"If you see a name you've never used, a Social Security number that doesn't belong to you or an address at which you've never lived, it could be a sign of fraud," says Rod Griffin, a public relations director for Experian.

How to tell the difference? Delve further into the details of your report to see if there is anything else that seems suspicious.

There are inquiries from lenders you don't recognize. Credit reporting agencies are required by law to disclose the names of any companies that have obtained your credit information in the last two years. You don't have to worry about "promotional" inquiries or "account review" inquiries, as those will be from companies marketing preapproved credit offers in the first case, or your current lenders reviewing your credit in the latter. But if there are inquiries from companies you truly don't recognize, you'll want to investigate.

One more thing to keep in mind here: Sometimes the name of the company checking your credit won't match the name of the place where you applied for credit. For example, you may apply for an instant credit account to buy furniture at XYZ Furniture, but the financing is handled through ABC Financial Services -- and that's who is listed in the inquiries section of your report.

You find accounts listed that you never opened. This type of error is the biggest tip-off that something is really wrong. Only your accounts, including accounts you have co-signed or those for which you are an authorized user, should appear on your credit reports.

Accounts that aren't yours could be a sign that your credit information is commingled with someone else's, which is something you'll need to sort out. Or it could reveal that your credit has been compromised.

Of course, you can't spot fraud on your credit reports if you don't check them. At a minimum, you should request a copy of your credit reports once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You may be entitled to additional free copies of your reports if you live in certain states, are unemployed and looking for work or if you believe you are a fraud victim.

 "It's important to take the information as a whole and in conjunction with other indicators," says Griffin. "Things such as unauthorized charges on a billing statement, collection notices for accounts that are not yours, billing statements from an unknown lender or a call from an existing lender asking if you made a purchase that you did not make should also be taken into account."

If you find information on your credit files that appears to be wrong, don't immediately assume the worst. But do take suspicious activity on your credit reports seriously. Contact the reporting agencies right away if you see something wrong. Catching fraud early can save you time and money.

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