Monitor your financial identity by reviewing your credit report
One step to make sure that no one has stolen your financial identity or established fraudulent credit in your name is to review your credit report. There are three large credit reporting agencies - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax - that receive, store and make information available on the borrowing of most consumers.
These credit agencies receive information when someone applies for credit as well as the payment history on most individual borrowing. Lenders can then access that information when they are considering making loans to individuals. To make sure that your information is correct and that no one has taken loans in your name, you should know what's in your credit report.
The Federal Trade Commission established a program that lets consumers receive a copy of their credit reports from each of the three credit agencies once a year. You can request and receive these free reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also request them by calling 1-877-322-8228.
This is the only government authorized program for this service. AnnualCreditReport.com does not solicit consumers by email, telemarketing, or direct mail. You should be very wary of advertisements promising free credit reports or credit report monitoring. They are probably attempts to sell reports or services that you may not need.
You can also call the credit reporting agencies directly, but there may be a charge.
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-888-4213
- Equifax: 1-800-997-2493
Reading your credit report
A credit report is a report card of your credit worthiness, your payment history and an assessment of your reliability to repay debt. The main purpose of the report is to provide credit issuers with information to allow them to decide whether or not to extend credit.
A standard consumer credit report includes:
- Your personal identifying information; name, current and previous addresses and phone numbers, Social Security Number, and date of birth.
- Employer and your spouse's name (on some reports)
- Information about any credit accounts you have had in the past seven years (open or closed), collection notices, inquiries initiated by credit applications, liens, or judgments, and federal district bankruptcy records.
- The names and addresses of those who have reviewed your report to send you a promotional offer.
- Statements added to you which may include a fraud alert or statements of dispute.
When should I order a copy of my report?
- It is recommended that everyone view their reports yearly to check for inaccuracies or fraudulent activity.
- There are three reporting agencies you can obtain a credit report from - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They are all federal regulated, independent businesses. The information they provide may vary.
- Credit reports are ordered separately from each of the three reporting agencies.
- Copies can be ordered online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
- Staggering your reports is a good idea. For example, Experian in January, TransUnion in April and Equifax in August. By January you will qualify for one from Experian again.
- Check to see if you have a credit report when you turn 18, or just before. If you have never had credit, rented an apartment or had utility service, you will not have a credit report.
What should I be looking for in my credit report - where will problems show up in?
- Make sure the different loans and credit cards shown are all actually yours. If someone has stolen your identity, accounts opened by someone else may appear on your report.
- Make sure the payment history and balances are accurate. Note that the bureaus can run a few months behind depending on when banks send them information.
- If you have judgements, collections, liens, etc. showing on your report, you may want to investigate.
What should I do if I find errors or accounts that don't belong to me?
- Tell the credit reporting company, in writing, what you think is inaccurate. Include copies of documents that support your position.
- State the facts, explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected.
- Send your letter by certified mail, "return receipt requested" and keep copies of everything.
- Credit reporting agencies must investigate the items in questions, usually within 30 days.
- When the investigation is complete, the credit report company must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change.
- If you ask, the credit reporting company must send notices of any corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months.