Identity theft has become one of the most significant crimes of today with over 15 million people in the United States falling victim each year. In response, there is now a myriad of identity protection companies that, for a fee, will watch your credit and notify you of potential fraud. While I don’t endorse any single pay service, I do highly recommend a free service where you can check your own credit at no cost: AnnualCreditReport.com
Basically, identity theft is when someone else uses your name and social security number to apply for credit or get a loan. Unfortunately, identity theft can be incredibly difficult to detect and may not show up until you are unexpectedly denied credit or receive a collection letter for a debt you don’t recognize. Credit monitoring services help protect you by proactively monitoring your credit and notifying you whenever new accounts are opened in your name.
If you don’t want to pay for monitoring service there is a quick and easy way to review your own credit: annualcreditreport.com. This site is a joint venture between the three largest credit reporting services: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion to provide consumers with an annual credit report for free. The credit reporting services are legally obligated to provide one credit report per year at no cost. Be careful of imitators and remember you should not be asked to pay anything for your credit report.
As you review your credit you are looking for accounts that you don’t recognize, credit inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted and incorrect amounts on credit cards that you do own. Don’t worry about your score. Instead, look at the individual accounts. If you find suspicious activity contact the credit service immediately. While I have used credit monitoring services in the past, I like to review my credit myself since no one knows my accounts like I do. Consider making it a tradition to check your credit when you do your tax return, or at the New Year, or on your birthday each year.
Taking these steps won’t guarantee that you are safe from identity theft. However, just like locking the door each night is a basic step to keeping your family safe, checking your credit regularly is a basic step that can help avoid most problems.
Want to learn more about identity theft. Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.
Want to get your annual credit report? Click here to go to annualcreditreport.com.