Protect your credit: one free step towards peace of mind

When did you last check your credit report?

It’s a question I frequently ask audiences, yet invariably only a few hands go up. If I ask when they last checked the credit report for their teen, no hands go up. Why aren’t people checking? The answer appears to be twofold:

  1. It hasn’t become a habit. We lead busy lives and checking credit scores hasn’t yet become part of our things-to-do lists.
  2. People don’t know how to get a credit report, and don’t trust that it’s really free.

Yet you have the right under recent amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act to one free credit disclosure in a twelve-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. You can compare your credit reports from all three companies once a year, or you can get a report from each company separately spaced over the year—say Feb 1st from TransUnion, June 1st from Experian, and October 1st from Equifax.

The easiest way to do this is through AnnualCreditReport.com, a service created by these three credit institutions specifically to help consumers get free annual reports. You can also pay for credit monitoring services from each credit reporting company. Decide for yourself if you want to pay for more proactive protection or stick with the free services. [1]

Get a free credit report

First off: get it on your calendar to check your credit and that of any minors over 13 in your care. Then, there are three ways to request all three reports at once from AnnualCreditReport.com:

  • Go to the Web site. Through this highly secure site, you can instantly see and print your credit report.
  • Call toll-free: (877) 322-8228. You’ll go through a simple verification process over the phone after which they’ll mail the reports to you.
  • Request by mail. If you live in certain states, fill out the request form and mail it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. (Get more details.)

Note: Remember that after you request a report, you will have to wait a year to get it free of charge again from the same credit reporting company. (Of course you can pay for a copy of your credit report at any time.)

Review your credit report to see if there are new credit cards, loans or other transactions on your account that you are not aware of.

If you have been a victim of credit card fraud,

If you think your identity has been stolen, here’s what to do:

  • Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies
  • Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
  • File your complaint with the FTC.
  • File a report with your local police or police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Get the details at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft//

Protecting your credit from fraud

Ironically, in spite of repeated measures to congress, no national legislation has been passed to better protect consumers from ID theft. 18 states currently allow you to place an “extended fraud alert” (the term for protection that stays on your account for 7 years) An additional 7 states allow consumers to protect yourself from identity theft or credit fraud AFTER you can prove you’ve already been a victim. (For proof you’ll need an identity theft report that includes a copy of a credit fraud report filed with local, state, or federal law enforcement).

Help change this by contacting your state and national elected officials (click for listing of Senators, representatives) to demand three things:

  • The right to place a freeze on your credit history before you’re a victim to prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your name
  • The right to know if your private information has been stolen or exposed – something businesses are not required to do for citizens in most states
  • Stronger security to protect your personal information, and more help for victims

To learn more about Internet fraud and protecting personal information, read Chapter 14 (“Get Savvy About Financial Scams and Fraud”) in Look Both Ways: help protect your family on the Internet and go to OnGuardOnline.gov.

Linda


[1]

 

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

Experian: 1-888- 397-3742

TransUnion : 1-800-680-7289

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