Identity theft is at a record high, according to a recent independent study by Javelin Strategy. In 2017, more than 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft. There were 1.3 million fraud-related complaints in 2016, costing consumers over $744 million.

It’s an expensive problem that’s getting to be more common all the time. While security technology continues to improve, so do fraudsters’ methods. Unfortunately, you’ll probably never be able to be 100-percent safe from identity theft, but the best way to protect yourself is to be aware the moment a problem begins. This is where credit monitoring comes in.

Is all your information correct?

The first thing you should do is to check that the right details are appearing on your report — name, address, employment status. Look for any mistakes, active accounts on your report that you don’t remember or any inaccurate negative feedback that a lender may have added. This double-checks for human errors as well as identity theft.

Knowing the factors and processes involved in determining your credit can help you make better decisions that protect your overall financial security in the long run.

If anything is wrong, it’s fairly easy to inform the relevant agencies. Most credit reporting companies can provide you with a credit dispute form, or you can reach out to your credit monitoring service, if you have one. This will initiate an investigation into your claims, and if your suspicions are confirmed, the reporting agency will provide you with a written report and new free credit report if anything about your score changes. This form can also be sent directly to your creditors, along with any materials that help to support your claim. By catching things early, you can stop identity thieves from digging you into a deeper hole.

Maximizing your benefits

If you do use a credit monitoring service, or are thinking about it, make sure you take advantage of that partnership as much as you can. Ideally your provider should be on the cutting-edge as far as technology is concerned, and there are several other key opportunities you should be aware of:

 Access to your credit report: To do the periodic checks mentioned in step one.

Credit score breakdown: Which will let you see the numbers used to quantify your creditworthiness. If they seem much lower than they should be, this can be a red flag.

Credit file change alerts: If any of the above information changes, you’ll get up-to-the-minute updates.

Black market scanning: Some monitors will provide real-time scans that check the dark web to see if your social security number, email addresses, credit and checking account numbers, etc. are on the market.

With the proliferation of new technologies, identity theft schemes are always getting more complex, so a credit monitoring service can be an excellent ally in combating fraud. Staying on top of changes in your credit isn’t just a great safeguard against risks of fraud, it’s also an ideal way to plan for your financial future. Knowing the factors and processes involved in determining your credit can help you make better decisions that protect your overall financial security in the long run.