Personal information is easy to steal, and it's valuable once stolen, especially the information that links you to your financial resources. To determine if your personal financial information has been used by a criminal, obtain a copy of your credit report by contacting the three credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act enables you to obtain a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus listed on this page. When contacting the credit bureaus by telephone, please listen to the menus carefully and fully before making your request. It may take up to two weeks to receive the report through the mail. You can receive your credit reports on-line immediately by going to www.annualcreditreport.com and filling out the required information. Or you can contact the three major credit bureaus directly listed on this page.
You should review your report carefully for any suspicious activity. Specifically, look for inquiries you didn’t initiate, accounts you didn’t open and unexplained debts on your accounts. Also check to see that information such as name, address, Social Security number, employer, etc. are correct. Inaccuracies in this information may also be due to typographical errors, but in any case it is important to correct the errors by notifying the credit bureau by telephone and in writing.
Fraud alerts can be placed on your credit report, so when a retailer or creditor checks your report in response to a request for a new credit card or financing for that plasma television, the fraud alert tells them to double-check that the person seeking credit is you. Ideally, the creditor delays extending credit until reaching you.
Alerts focus only on criminals opening new credit lines in your name, not the use of existing accounts. Also, some retailers don't check credit reports before extending credit and those that do don't always try to reach you – they may just ask the criminal some easy-to-answer questions. Still, alerts increase the chance you'll be contacted if someone applies for credit in your name.
You can call or go online to each of the three credit-reporting agencies to place a fraud alert for free. Generally, fraud alerts expire after 90 days.
If you reside in Massachusetts or another state where a law has been passed granting rights to individuals to freeze access to credit reports, this option is available to you. Consumers' access to a credit freeze is a strong component of any identity theft-fighting strategy.
The credit freeze is a weapon that empowers individuals to stop the illegal activity of identity thieves and credit card fraudsters quickly and easily. Look for information about credit freezes on each of the credit bureaus' web sites.