Monitoring Your Credit Reports
Frequent review of your bank and credit card accounts combined with periodic review of your credit reports are two of the best ways to stop identity theft in its tracks. Unfortunately, if you find something suspicious, chances are it means you have already unwittingly become a victim, however it also gives you the opportunity to quickly stop further attacks on your money and your good name.
Bank and credit card account review is easier than ever today. With 24-hour toll-free hotlines and online account access available for most all types of accounts, you are able to examine account activity at your convenience. Often this type of access is free and can be done quickly and privately from your home or office.
Electronic statements are another information delivery alternative that can also provide you with more prompt and secure account review. Mailbox theft is a common way many thieves acquire sensitive account information, and by receiving statements electronically delivered to your personal email, you can circumvent much of this risk. eStatements allow for faster receipt, more secure delivery, and convenient storage so that you may quickly access and review your account history on demand.
Exercise your new rights to review your credit record and report fraudulent activity. Your credit report, which is prepared by a credit bureau, summarizes your history of paying debts and other bills. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), since September 1, 2005, residents in all 50 states and U.S. territories, can get one free credit report each year from each of the nation's three major credit bureaus.
Experts suggest spreading out your requests throughout the year—get one free report every four months instead of three at the same time—to maximize your protection.
To get your free report, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 877-322-8228. Review your credit report for warning signs of actual or potential ID theft, such as mention of a credit card, loan or lease you never signed up for. If you already are a victim of ID theft or you suspect you are a target, FACTA gives you new rights to place a fraud alert in your credit files at all three major credit bureaus by calling or writing any one of their fraud departments.
The new Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) does more than just give you new tools to fight identity theft. This law also includes provisions that can help ensure the accuracy of your credit record, which can make a big difference the next time you apply for a loan, a job or some other benefit.
Your credit record, as prepared by a credit bureau, is a summary of your history of paying debts and other bills. The reports are used by banks, insurers, landlords and even potential employers to make judgments about your reliability. Most experts say you should check your credit report at least once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus.
One reason to stay on top of your credit report is to help spot identity theft. But another reason is to look for inaccuracies or omissions that could prevent you from getting the best possible credit terms. "It's especially beneficial to review your credit report before you are ready to apply for that dream house mortgage or the new car loan," states Janet Kincaid, FDIC Senior Consumer Affairs Officer.
For many years, the Fair Credit Reporting Act has given you the right to obtain free copies of your credit reports if you suspect that you are the victim of fraud, if you receive welfare assistance or are unemployed, or if you had recently been denied a loan or other benefit based on negative information in your report. A free annual credit report also has been available in some states. But otherwise, credit bureaus were permitted to charge for credit reports (up to $9 under the most recent federal rules).
Under FACTA, you will have the right to obtain one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months. Rules issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provide for free credit reports to become available in stages, began in the western states December 1, 2004, and gradually moving east with completion due by September 1, 2005. FACTA also requires the major credit bureaus to provide a single point of contact so you can request your reports from all three companies with one toll-free phone call, letter or Internet request. (See more details at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/credit/rights.shtm).
Although you can ask to receive copies from all three credit bureaus at the same time, Consumer Reports magazine suggests spreading out your requests throughout the year to get periodic updates and maximize your protection. Specifically, the magazine recommends that you "request your report from one bureau initially, then follow up with another bureau's report four months later and the third four months after that."
Everyone with a credit record also has a credit score. It's a number calculated by a credit bureau, a lender or another company based on your credit report. A credit score is intended to help lenders and other users of credit reports make reasonable decisions as quickly and efficiently as possible. "Your credit score can be an important factor in getting a loan with an attractive interest rate or even obtaining an insurance policy at a low price," said Kincaid. "Knowing the factors used in deriving your score can help you understand what you need to do to improve your rating and get a better deal."
Prior to FACTA, some providers of credit scores voluntarily made them available to consumers. But since December 1, 2004, you have new rights to obtain your score from a credit bureau as well as an explanation of the key factors used in computing the score. (Note: If the credit bureau's score came from another company, it must tell you how to contact that firm to obtain the rating factors.) Although there are exceptions, the credit bureau may charge you a “reasonable fee” for your score which will be determined by the FTC. "If a mortgage lender uses a credit score in connection with your application for a certain type of home loan, you will be entitled to learn your score and some basic information about it for free," says David Lafleur, a Policy Analyst at the FDIC.
To learn more about credit reports, credit scores and FACTA, go to the FTC's Web site (www.ftc.gov) or call toll-free 877-FTC-HELP (877-382 -4357).
NOTE: HNB Bank (HNB) is providing the above information as a customer service for educational purposes only. HNB assumes no liability for the use of this information and does not guarantee that the following recommendations will provide appropriate security.