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How identity theft can affect your credit score

How identity theft can affect your credit score

Online scams, including identity theft, are some of the most common ways Australians experience financial scams each year.

Recent data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) showed that Australians lost more money to online scams during COVID-19 than ever before. The ACCC found that Aussies lost $176.1 million to scams in 2020, an increase of 23.1 per cent compared to 2019.

If you’ve been targeted by identity theft, it’s important to know how it may affect your credit score, and what you can do to repair any damage done.

How identity theft may impact your credit score

Identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal information, such as your name, birth date, driver’s license number, passport number etc.

By using this information, criminals can apply for financial products and/or request funds be withdrawn on your behalf. This includes applying for credit cards, personal loans, phone plans and even passports under your name. This is where identity theft can begin to adversely affect your credit history and credit score.

According to credit reporting bureau, Equifax, some of the ways a criminal can use your personal information includes: 

  1. “Opening new credit card accounts in your name. When the thief makes purchases on the credit cards and leaves the bills unpaid, the negative information can be reported to your credit report and could impact your credit score and your ability to get credit in the future.
  2. Opening a bank account in your name or create fake debit cards and use them to drain your existing bank accounts.
  3. Setting up a phone, wireless internet, or other utility service in your name.
  4. Trying to get a copy of your Equifax Credit Report.

Essentially, any adverse financial events that the criminal does under your name may show up under your credit history and damage your credit score

What to do if you discover errors on your credit report

Oftentimes identity theft is only detected after someone has taken out financial products under your name, which means that these events may already be on your credit report.

The good news is that these events aren’t a life sentence. Credit reporting bureaus, such as Equifax and Experian, are prepared to act, assess, and remove incorrect information on your report.

A Forbes article noted that fixing identity theft can be a lengthy and involved process, taking on average more than 30 hours of time and effort to repair. But it’s crucial that you don’t let this dissuade you from taking action, as the damage done to your credit history and score will see you struggle for years otherwise.

Firstly, if you believe you may be the subject of identity theft it’s best to contact the police and report the crime. Then, to protect your credit history you’ll want to request a copy of your credit report to check what information is or isn’t correct.

With this information, you’ll want to contact the credit providers immediately and inform them that this crime has occurred, and the credit product has been applied for illegally. The provider should take immediate action in closing said accounts and generally retrieving any stolen funds

After you’ve informed the credit providers, reach out to Australian credit bureaus. Inform them that this crime has occurred and list the information you believe is incorrect on your credit report. The credit bureau will be able to investigate these errors to remove them and repair your credit score, as well as put a pause on any new credit information being added to your report by the criminal

Equifax also recommends keeping records of any conversations throughout this process, including:

  • Names of the individuals
  • Contact numbers
  • Date you spoke to an organisation
  • Details of the conversation

This may be prudent for legal reasons, particularly if the case is taken to court. But can also be valuable in assisting the credit providers and credit bureaus in investigating the removal of the false information.

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This article was reviewed by Head of Content Leigh Stark before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about credit score

How regularly does your credit score change?

There are plenty of things that can affect your credit score, but when they'll impact it can vary wildly, and often depend on when the information has been passed on.

Every credit enquiry is noted on your credit file, and this impacts your credit score. Thanks to Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR), it means you both positive and negative transactions can impact your score, but so, too, can the frequency. For instance, if you apply too often for credit cards or apply with multiple lenders for a home loan and aren't successful, you may see a decline. 

How long this information take to pass on is an important question, but the length of time often depends on the credit reporting agency. Some transactions can take a small amount of time, while others take much longer. For that reason, it's important to check your credit history regularly so you can be more aware of what your credit score looks like, and if you need to correct any of the statements made on it. 

Does borrowing money affect credit score?

Whether it’s through a home loan, a personal loan, or a credit card, borrowing money will affect your credit score. Taking on a home loan or a credit card may have a positive impact on your score, but too many loan applications can bring your credit score down.  

Every time you apply for credit, an inquiry is performed against your name. Too many inquiries can reflect negatively on your credit report, and if your loan application is rejected it will negatively impact your credit score.

How you handle your debt can also make a big difference. As long as you make timely payments you may be able to improve your credit score and overall creditworthiness. However, any missed or delayed payments will likely result in a negative impact on your credit score.

Does breaking a lease affect your credit score?

When you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to pay rent for a certain period. But what happens in case you need to break the lease midway? Does breaking a lease affect your credit score? 

If you’re planning to break a lease early, you might be required to give a certain amount of notice, pay two months' rent and an early termination fee, or you should be willing to forfeit your security deposit.

If you’re able to pay all dues before moving out, breaking the lease is unlikely to affect your credit score. However, if you leave without paying, your landlord could use a collection agency to collect any unpaid rent. Your landlord could even sue you, and if you lose, you may have to pay the dues and court costs. While landlords typically don’t report unpaid rent to credit bureaus, there’s a possibility that a collection agency will report it. Collection mentions can stay on your report for several years and may affect your credit score.

Furthermore, breaking a lease could create issues when you're looking to rent in the future. A future landlord could contact previous landlords or check your rental history, and any mention of a broken lease could make you appear as a high-risk tenant, putting the rental application at risk.

Can a debt collector affect your credit score?

When a creditor is unable to contact you by phone or by sending you a formal notice in regards to outstanding debt, they will often outsource the job to a debt collector. The debt collector can try to reach you by phone, or they can attempt to contact you face to face. If they cannot get through to you by either method, they can only report back to the creditor but not directly report a payment default to the credit rating agency. So, can debt collectors affect your credit score? No, they cannot do so directly.

However, if you owe money, you have an obligation to return it or communicate your difficulty in doing so to the creditor as well as to any involved debt collector. If they cannot contact you, they can report a serious credit infringement against you, which may affect your credit score for many years. Creditors can also take the legal route, and a court judgment against you can also severely impact your credit score.

You should remember that debt collectors need to abide by specific rules and cannot harass you by repeatedly calling or visiting you, or by threatening to confiscate your possessions if you don’t pay up. Similarly, they cannot threaten to file a default against you, especially with a credit bureau.

How does my credit score affect the interest rate offered by lenders?

When you apply for a loan, lenders will typically access your credit history. By studying your credit report, they can not only estimate whether you are a reliable borrower, but also calculate the maximum amount you can borrow and repay completely before the loan term expires. Your credit report can also tell lenders about the other kinds of debt you’ve taken and whether you earn enough to make additional repayments. 

If you don’t have too much outstanding debt, or if you’re managing your current level of debt well, you’re more likely to have a higher credit score. For some credit products, lenders usually offer a lower interest rate for applicants with a fair credit score. If they don’t, you can always try to negotiate it, given your higher creditworthiness. You should remember that asking for a lower interest rate may not affect your credit score, but applying for the loan certainly has an impact.  

Does home loan pre-approval affect credit score?

Home loan pre-approval can give you a better idea of the amount you can spend when buying a property. It can also tell you about the steps you need to take to finalise your home loan and receiving the funds. Depending on how you approach a lender, pre-approval could include a credit inquiry which does affect your credit score. Some lenders, however, may offer an online pre-approval which is faster and doesn’t involve a credit history check. An online pre-approval may only consider your financial capacity and offer suggestions on how to prepare yourself to take a home loan.

Most lenders, however, will likely prefer to make a full assessment of your financial situation by requesting a credit report in addition to your bank statements and tax returns. Such a credit inquiry, sometimes called a hard pull, is usually recorded on your credit file and can therefore affect your credit score. If you approach several lenders and all of them initiate credit inquiries, this will impact your credit score negatively. Sometimes credit reporting agencies make an exception in terms of including multiple credit inquiries if they are made within a certain period. It would still be best to avoid making multiple applications with different lenders.

Does a credit score check impact your credit score?

You may have heard that when a bank or lender performs a credit check, that it can impact credit score. But checking your own credit score isn't the same, and won't affect your credit score in the same way.

There are two types of credit checks that can be recorded in your credit history: hard credit checks and soft credit checks.

Hard credit checks occur when you apply to borrow money from a bank or lender, such as when you apply for a credit card or loan. A soft credit checks occur when your credit file is accessed outside of applications to borrow money, such as when you check your own credit score or credit history.

Checking your credit score is a request for information and not an application to borrow money, so it should not affect a lender’s decision to accept or decline your credit applications. As such, it's a soft credit check, and is unlikely to affect your credit score, positively or negatively.

 

Where can I check my credit report for free?

While you can get a free credit report in multiple ways, RateCity's own credit checking system allows you to find your score from two credit history systems, Experian and Equifax. 

When you request your free credit report, you'll likely need to supply some personal information, such as your name, contact details, and a personal identification, such as a drivers license number or another form of identification. 

Not only does a credit report show credit score, but it usually often contains positive and negative credit transactions covering the past five years of payments. 

Why should I check my credit score annually?

You may not need to get your free credit rating every year, but it can help you stay informed. A yearly free credit report can help Australians keep track of the impact of various financial transactions on their credit score.

Your credit score helps inform financial organisations, particularly lenders, about the sort of payer you are. Depending on how you've paid down debt in the past, it will have affected your credit score in various ways. In Australia, the inclusion of Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) means that you can find out which transactions affect your credit score positively, as well those that have a negative impact.

Because of this, you may want to consider getting a free credit report once a year irrespective of whether you’re planning to apply for a loan or take on other debt. Checking your credit report can tell you if there are errors in your credit file, which affect your credit score and need to be corrected.

What are some advantages of a good credit score?

You should know about the advantages of credit score improvement as there are many occasions when having a good score is helpful. If your credit score is categorised as good, very good, or excellent, it can indicate you have strong borrowing power. This may encourage lenders to give you special discounts on interest rates and other loan terms. You may also find it easier to get approved for a credit card or a property rental. You can also try to negotiate terms using your superior credit score as leverage.

A high credit score indicates that you are financially responsible, but it requires you to be disciplined. If you currently have a good credit score, you still need to remember not to apply too often for credit cards or loans as these can quickly pull down your score. On the one hand, you may have better access to credit, but your good financial habits mean that you may not need to access this credit. Having some credit products can help build up your credit report, and therefore your credit score. You would just need to keep the debt and limits to a minimum and pay the bills on time. It’s never advisable to take out credit that you can’t afford to pay as it negatively impacts your credit history.  Even if you have a good credit score, you can always improve it further.

Can I check my credit score without a driver's license?

In Australia, your driver’s license is the preferred identification document for credit reporting agencies. This means you may not be able to confirm your identity using another document, such as a proof-of-age card. You may have genuine reasons like concerns over identity theft for not wanting to provide your driver’s license number. Unfortunately, most credit bureaus won’t allow people to check their credit score without a driver’s license. 

If you don’t have a driver’s license, there’s a good chance you haven’t applied for credit in the past and don’t have a credit score at all. In case you are concerned about identity theft, credit reporting agencies can offer you paid packages that include insurance against identity theft. Such packages may also include monthly credit score checks or alerts whenever your score is updated.

What if your credit score has dropped for no reason

The importance of checking your credit score regularly is hard to overstate as the changes may not be as relevant to your life, and there may be the occasional error, but what should you do if it drops for no reason?

Credit reporting agencies calculate your credit score based on the information they receive from lenders, banks, credit card providers and utility companies, among others. This report takes into account both the credit enquiries these companies make, as well as your payment history with them, and may include other factors. But because some reports may come in at different times, delays can appear like drops. 

Suppose you missed paying a bill while on holidays and the supplier couldn’t reach you, or something like it -- in this instance, the provider may report the default to the credit reporting agency, which can cause your credit score to fall when the credit reporting agency eventually sees the information. Because of an obvious delay, the drop can seem random.

Regularly checking your credit score and the transactions that have appeared can provide some understanding as to why a credit score drop might have occurred, and even provide some understanding as to how you can fix the drop, improving your credit score in the process. 

Do landlords check credit scores?

For landlords, credit score checks can tell if a potential tenant has a history of delayed or missed rent payments. Usually, a poor record of repayments is likely to result in a low credit score. Also, your credit history may include information from tenancy databases such as the number of times landlords have inquired about your credit score. 

If there are too many inquiries within a short time, landlords may conclude that you have had issues renting in the past.  However, there is no rule as to when landlords check your credit score. Some might check every time they receive a tenant’s application. In some cases, landlords may even rent out their property to tenants with a poor credit history if they can submit additional documents or sufficiently explain their situation and how they are trying to address it.

 What credit score do landlords look for?

Landlords may look for issues relating to repayment rather than a specific credit score, although a low credit score probably suggests that you’ve had repayment issues. In general, if your credit score is categorised good, very good, or excellent - which corresponds to an Equifax credit score range of 622 - 1,200, landlords may not scrutinise your credit history too closely.

Why your credit score may differ between Experian and Equifax

Two of Australia's biggest credit reporting bureaus are Experian and Equifax, and while they both do the same thing, it’s not uncommon to find that your credit score can differ significantly.

Firstly, Experian and Equifax each have their own credit reporting algorithms to interpret and quantify your personal credit history. That means that while they do the same sort of thing -- credit tracking and reporting -- they may not handle it in the same way. Your credit history may therefore be similar, but not identical between Experian and Equifax.

While neither reveals exactly how they work, each also likely work in different time frames, which means your credit history may be viewed differently between the two. One could look at the most recent, while another might be weeks apart. For this reason, scores can vary.

Finally, there are different scales at which they work, and depending on the types of transactions your credit history has seen, this may impact the overall result slightly different, thus making the scores different.