Check Out Your Credit Report
It's been more than a year now since the government started rolling out a program giving consumers free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. Residents in the West coast were the first to have access to their reports, and finally last September, East coast residents--and everyone in between--were able to check their credit history annually.
The credit reports were mandated by Congress three years ago to reduce the incidence of identity theft. By checking your credit history regularly, you should be able to spot any suspicious activity, such as a new credit card account that you never requested.
So if you haven't done so--start checking your reports NOW. Many consumer advocates suggest that if you haven't had a particular problem, then just get one report now, and if it's clean, wait another four months before scrutinizing one from another bureau. If that's clean, wait an additional four months for the last report. Then repeat the same cycle the next year. Of course if you do spot problems, then you probably should check all of the reports at the same time.
How do you do this? It's pretty easy. You can do it through the mail or call a toll-free number--or download your report online. All the information you need is on the special Internet site set up for the free reports, annualcreditreport.com. BUT CAUTION: if you mistype the name, by just one letter, you may get an imposter site that has been designed to look like the officially sanctioned one. These, in themselves, can lead to identity theft! The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on these fraudulent sites and the agency last week said there's been a significant decrease in them. But be careful--and to be extra safe, you may want to go to the FTC's site first (that has fewer letters to mistype!) and find the link there to get your annual report (or simply click on it from here).
Another word of warning: Some of the sites offer all sorts of added for-fee services. You don't have to pay for these! Additionally, many consumers have complained about difficulties in getting credit reports. Keep trying--and if you continue having problems, I'd love to hear about it. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Still another cautionary note: If you don't speak English, it can be even more challenging to get your credit reports, a problem noted by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Report. Consumers Union last week said millions of Spanish-speaking consumers are having difficulties getting their free reports because none of the three credit bureaus have been required to make the process bilingual. The group called on the three bureaus to do so voluntarily--because the FTC has no plans to mandate such a requirement.
The FTC said requiring more than English was too much of a burden to ask the credit bureaus last year when the program was starting, and there are no immediate plans to make them do so now. But the agency pointed to Spanish language educational materials that would help Spanish-speaking consumers more easily obtain their own reports.
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