Can Someone Use Your Identity To Take Out a Loan?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 204,967 reports of loan fraud [*] in the United States in 2020 alone.
Loan fraud can occur in many different forms. But in every case, it has the potential to ruin your credit rating and get in the way of buying a home, loaning money, or starting a business.
We all need to borrow money or use credit at some point in our lives. So what can you do to protect yourself from scammers who want to ruin your financial good name?
In this guide, we’ll teach you how loan fraud happens, how to spot it, and protect yourself and your family from this serious threat.
What is Loan Fraud?
Loan fraud is when a criminal uses your personal information to illegally obtain a loan.
For example, a fraudster might open a mortgage in your name (i.e., mortgage fraud) or take out a payday loan and leave you to pay it off.
Because loan fraud requires the theft and use of your personal information, it’s considered a type of identity theft. In 2020, loan or lease fraud was the fourth most common type of identity theft.
Scammers can get access to your personal information through a number of ways. They could use phishing scams to steal your personally identifiable information (PII) or get you to download malware that gives them access to your device. But due to the number of data breaches in recent years, the easiest option is to buy your account details on the Dark Web.
Pro tip: You can check to see which of your account numbers, passwords, and sensitive information hackers have access to using Aura's Identity Guard Dark Web Scanner.
Many loaning agencies only require a minimal amount of information during the loaning process. For identity thieves, this means all they need is a few pieces of information — your Social Security number (SSN) or bank account number — to secure a loan.
Is Loan Fraud Really That Bad?
Yes. And it's not just a problem for banks, governments, and loaning agencies.
At a minimum, a thief could take out multiple payday loans in your name. While in the worst case, a scammer could open a legitimate home, business, or car loan that you’ll be responsible for paying off.
If you’re the victim of loan fraud, you can be held responsible for the money taken out in your name. You could also be hit with a massive penalty on your credit score and even criminally prosecuted if you don’t pay back the loan.
For example, if a scammer takes out a loan in your name and never pays it off, you could have late payment penalties recorded on your credit score. Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO® Score.
Loan fraud can sometimes be difficult to track. Especially if the scammer is operating in a different state or has used a change-of-address scam to get access to your mail.
Finally, if an identity thief has used your stolen identity to take out a loan, they could also be using it to commit other types of fraud.
Thankfully, most victims can prove that an identity thief took out the loan. But dealing with the process is still a harrowing experience that can leave long-term effects on your credit.
9 Types of Loan Fraud to Avoid
- Credit card fraud
- Car loan fraud
- Advance-fee loan scams
- Home loan (mortgage) fraud
- Business loan fraud
- COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Fraud
- Payday loan fraud
- Student loan fraud
- Debt consolidation scam
Loan fraud can happen anywhere you borrow money or extend your credit. From taking out student loans to opening credit cards, mortgages, and businesses.
1. Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud is one of the most common types of loan fraud that identity thieves commit.
After stealing your identifying information, a thief applies for a credit card in your name. Once it’s approved, the scammer can rack up debt and leave you responsible for paying back the loan. Credit card fraud can happen in a number of ways:
- Stolen or lost cards. One of the dangers of having too many credit cards is that thieves have more opportunities to get access to your account numbers. Stolen wallets and mail fraud are also common ways that scammers get access to your credit cards.
- Account takeovers. A scammer can contact your card issuer and use your stolen personal information to change PINs, passwords, and your mailing address, giving them full access to your credit.
- Cloned cards. Some scammers install devices called “skimmers” that fit over card readers and steal your account information when you use them.
- Card-not-present theft. Identity thieves can buy credit card numbers off the Dark Web for as little as $150 and use them to make thousands in online purchases.
The good news is that credit card providers are very familiar with fraud. Almost every provider offers some sort of fraud protection. And even if your card does get stolen, you may only be liable for up to $50 by federal law — if you report it within two days of learning it’s lost or stolen.
Be suspicious of any strange activity on your accounts or if your credit score suddenly decreases.
Pro tip: Sign up for credit monitoring and fraud alerts to help prevent credit card fraud.
2. Car Loan Fraud
Car loan fraud follows the same basic principles as credit card identity theft. But instead of applying for a credit card, the thief applies for a car loan.
Car loan fraud can be particularly damaging since the loans are typically larger than those available for a credit card. Unfortunately, with the rise of online-only car shopping, it’s easier for fraudsters to use your identity to apply for loans.
If you start to get messages about a car loan you didn’t take out or are contacted by a dealership you don’t know, you could be the victim of car loan fraud.
3. Advance-Fee Loan Scams
Unlike identity theft-based loan fraud, an advance-fee loan scam doesn’t involve a real loan at all — only the promise of one.
Let’s say you need to borrow money for essential car repairs or to keep up with your mortgage payments. A scammer will pose as a lender and promise to get you what you need, usually no matter what your credit history looks like. The only catch is that it requires an upfront processing fee.
But once you pay the fee, you’ll never hear back from the “lender.” It was all a ruse to get you to pay a processing fee for a loan that never existed.
Beware of lenders who don’t check your credit or who say it doesn’t matter. You can learn more about how to protect yourself from no-credit-check scams from the FTC.
4. Home Loan (Mortgage) Fraud
Mortgage fraud is another common and devastating form of loan fraud.
If an identity thief has enough of your personal information — such as your tax return and Social Security number — they can apply for mortgages in your name.
A thief can even falsify property ownership (i.e., deed fraud) and “sell” your home to an unsuspecting buyer. Or, they might apply for a reverse mortgage and steal the equity in your home.
Another type of fraud is taking part in a mortgage or real estate scam. This is where a fraudulent buyer, homeowner, and appraiser work together to apply for an overpriced mortgage loan, then split the proceeds.
The victim — a so-called “straw borrower” — is an innocent person with good credit who’s tricked into believing the real estate scheme is an investment. Because the mortgage is overpriced, the straw borrower can’t pay it off even if the house goes into foreclosure.
5. Business Loan Fraud
Fraudsters can give false information to apply for small business loan programs from private lenders including banks or agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Someone can use your information to apply for a business loan in your name — even if you don’t have a business. Thieves use stolen identities to apply for investment money or an economic injury disaster loan.
Of the nearly $1 trillion in distributed support for small businesses, an estimated 5% was lost to fraud.
6. COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Fraud
Fraudsters have also flocked to the pandemic Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) due to its lax regulations.
Because this coronavirus aid program loan didn’t need to be paid back in every circumstance, scammers applied using false or stolen information.
7. Payday Loan Fraud
Of all the loan fraud options available to scammers, a payday loan could be the simplest.
Payday loan applications require very little verification to complete. Many scammers will open multiple fraudulent loans from different lenders in your name. You’ll only know when they start coming to collect.
Scammers also create fraudulent payday loan websites to steal your information and money.
When looking for a lender, make sure they’re using a secure website that won’t steal your banking information. Secure websites will have a lock icon beside the URL and use “https://” instead of “http://”.
You can also check to see if the lender is registered in your state (which is required by law). Contact your state’s bank regulator to make sure they’re legitimate.
8. Student Loan Fraud
There are a few different types of student loan fraud. One is like the other types of identity theft-related frauds in which someone uses your personal data to apply for student loans.
But the more common type of student loan fraud is a scam to charge for “help” with a student loan.
Scammers commonly charge fees for student loan modification, consolidation, or even forgiveness. But after you pay, they disappear with your money.
The truth is that student debt consolidation is free, and reduction and loan forgiveness are rare except in special circumstances.
9. Debt Consolidation Scam
Debt consolidation is a legitimate way to help get a handle on repaying your debt while saving you money. However, this also makes them targets for loan fraudsters who will take your money without paying off your debt.
If a debt consolidation company tells you to stop contacting your creditors, there’s a good chance they’re trying to scam you.
What To Do if You’re the Victim of Loan Fraud
You might not notice that you’ve been affected by loan fraud until long after it happens. But the faster you recognize the scam, the quicker you can shut down scammers and protect your credit.
If you have a credit monitoring service, you’ll be quickly alerted to any suspicious activity or loans taken out in your name. Otherwise, the biggest red flags are a decrease in your credit score, calls from collection agencies, or receiving strange bills for accounts you don’t recognize.
If you think you’ve been scammed, here’s what to do next:
- Get your documents together. Collect any screenshots, emails, or correspondence with the scammer that you think will help your case.
- Submit a report to the FTC on IdentityTheft.gov. This is your official statement of identity theft and can help protect you from being liable for fraudulent loans.
- File a police report with your local law enforcement. This is a necessary step when you know who stole your identity or a financial institution requires a police report.
- Contact any impacted lenders, financial institutions, or government agencies (such as the SBA). Let them know you’ve filed a complaint or report the problem directly to them. For example, if you’ve been billed for a fraudulent SBA or PPP loan, you can contact the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance.
- Set up a credit freeze or fraud alert. This makes it harder for scammers to open new loans in your name.
- Protect yourself from further identity theft. Aura protects your identity with credit monitoring, device and network protection, and $1 million in coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
It’s important to report fraud to help prevent future cases. ReportFraud.FTC.gov is the best way to do this.
Don’t forget that the government takes loan fraud seriously.
Perpetrators of loan fraud, bank fraud, and wire fraud can face criminal charges, millions in fees, and jail time — in some cases, for as many as 30 years.
Many regulatory agencies constantly monitor for loan fraud schemes and prosecute criminals involved. Including the FBI, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Attorney General, and the Office of the Inspector General.
The Bottom Line: Protect Yourself from Loan Fraud
Loan fraud is often one of the first things scammers do with your stolen identity. But with some precautions, you can keep your identity and credit secure.
Always question who you give information to — especially your Social Security number and bank account numbers. (Be especially careful with your SSN as it's not always possible to change your Social Security number – even after fraud or identity theft.) Verify any loan programs, offers, and collection agencies before sharing your personal information or handing over money.
By staying alert, you can avoid many types of loan fraud and stay safe.