Guard Your Credit from Financial Identity Theft


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Guard Your Credit in the Event of Financial Identity Theft

Without becoming a victim of identity theft, you can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year. Federal law requires the three major credit reporting agencies to provide these free reports annually. To satisfy their obligations, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion jointly have established www.annualcreditreport.com, where you can order your free credit reports.

You can also call them at 1-877-322-8228 or write to them at Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Because the material in your credit reports is usually largely redundant across these three companies, stagger your requests over the year and rotate between the three firms. If there is any problem with your credit report, it usually will show up on any of your reports from these three firms.

(Avoid using any of those obnoxious free credit report copycat companies, such as “freecreditreport.com,” that advertise on TV, but will only supply “free” credit reports, when you pay a lot for their other supposedly valuable premium services. Also, if you are a woman, you probably have already figured out these freecreditreport.com TV advertisers are not to be trusted. Incredibly cluelessly, their TV ads always blame the bride’s bad credit for young guitar playing slacker hubby having to work at a pirate themed fast food job. What a clueless company marketing department to insult the female half of their target audience with their advertising budget! Have they written off women because women shop and are too smart to pay for something that is supposed to be free? Free credit reporting my keister! This is another confirmation that the Federal Communications Commission is dead at the wheel with respect to consumer protections. Companies can get away with confusing people, screaming “free, free, free,” and then charging people for something that they have a legal right to get for free, if they just knew the correct web address.}

Identity Theft Events Provide Opportunities to Lock Down Reporting about Your Credit

While identity theft is a large and growing problem and can be very costly and inconvenient to you, it is just a business cost and headache to financial and retail firms, who also have benefited greatly from the proliferation of easy credit.

One way to protect yourself is to put restrictions on your credit records with the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These credit reporting companies have made profitable businesses on both sides. They charge fees to business firms who may not always treat your financial information carefully, and they charge you fees when you want to restrict access to your financial information in their data bases.

For some, these credit information access restriction fees go away when you become an identity theft victim. Whether or not you lose money, if you become a victim of identity theft, this may actually be an opportunity for some of you. In some states, like California, identity theft victims can get long-term locks put on their accounts without having to pay fees to the three credit bureaus.

California Residents Can Get a Free Fraud Alert for Seven Years Following Even a Minor Fraud Event

If you live in California and have become a victim of identity theft, you have rights under California law as an identity theft victim to have your credit files frozen for seven years without paying fees to the credit reporting agencies for such a long-term “fraud alert.” For example, if your credit card shows suspicious charges that you did not make and even if your credit card company takes them off your statement, you still can make an identity theft report to your local police and get a police report. With this police report and by writing to the appropriate addresses and following the procedures, the three credit reporting agencies are obligated legally to put long-term fraud alerts on your credit reports.




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The downside of locking your credit report is that you cannot yourself apply and be approved immediately for instant credit. The good news is that nobody else can do the same for seven years, as well. (Note that if you do need to apply for a credit card or refinance a mortgage, you still can do so, but the credit lock on your account just creates a delay. You have to proactively contact the credit bureaus to inform them of the validity your efforts to apply for more credit.)

Lock Up Your Credit at the Credit Reporting Agencies

The upside to locking your credit report is that new attempts to establish credit in your name are blocked without your permission. Not only does that mean that criminals cannot open new credit cards in your name, it means that you have greater protection from other kinds of credit related crimes. For example, the credit crisis has spawned a crime wave of mortgage and real estate line of credit frauds.

Criminals have opened credit lines in home owners names and then have quickly drained the credit lines of their funds. In addition, homes have been sold without the home owners knowledge and sometimes the knowledge even of the “buyer” who also had his or her identity stolen and was an unwitting participant in the transaction.

Obviously, it is better to prevent costly situations like these than clean them up. In addition, pay close attention to any document sent to you by your county registrar. Because of increasing real estate fraud some county registrars, including Los Angeles County, now send notices to the address of record whenever any deed or other records change is filed with them.

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