A Careful Review of Your Credit Report
Ready or not, the Holiday Season is just around the corner and ‘Tis the Season’ of giving and receiving. For some, however, tis simply the final Season of taking your personal information. During the holidays, you may be more susceptible to identity theft for a variety of reasons including increased use of your credit cards, more crowds that allow pickpockets to hide, and online shopping on ‘bargain’ sites that you may not normally use. According to the 2015 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research, there were 12.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2014 or a new victim every two seconds. And although you may not partake in these activities, even the most careful consumers can fall victim to identity fraud. With that said, one way you can help keep yourself safe from these holiday grinches is to monitor your credit report regularly for early detection of identity fraud. Below, we offer tips and information on how to obtain, review, and correct your credit report so you have one less thing to worry about this holiday season.
Firstly, we need to establish what you can find in your credit report. A credit report is a summary of your financial history and provides a wealth of information. The first piece of information a credit report provides is a summary of all your credit accounts, from credit cards to mortgages and everything in between. This includes opening date, credit limit or loan amount, balance, and payment history. The second piece of information a credit report provides is about credit inquiries by creditors, whether soft (when you get pre-approved for a line of credit) or hard (when you apply for a line of credit and the creditor pulls your credit report). The third piece of information a credit report provides is public record and collection information. This can include judgments, bankruptcies, and even unpaid parking tickets. All of this information is used to calculate your credit score, the three digit number used to determine your credit worthiness, which we all know is extremely important in determining whether or not a creditor will lend you money and at what rate.
Needless to say, we highly recommend that you monitor your credit report. Although doing so will not prevent identity fraud, it is one of the best ways to detect fraud early on, providing you the opportunity to take appropriate action before the situation gets out of control. And yes, we will share with you another way to detect identity fraud early on, one we highly recommend to all clients.
First, obtain your credit report. Thanks to federal law, you can obtain a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) annually. Take advantage of this! You can request a credit report either directly through the bureaus or via annualcreditreport.com. Note that there are numerous websites that charge for credit reports – avoid them.
Second, review your credit report. As you do, answer the following questions:
- Is your personal information accurate?
- Do you recognize the accounts?
- Is the following accurate for each account?
- Opening date?
- Credit limit or loan amount?
- Payment history?
- Do you recognize the hard credit inquiries? Don’t worry about the soft credit inquiries as you cannot control them and they do not impact your credit.
- Are the public records accurate?
- Is the collection information accurate?
Third, if you answered no to any of the above questions, you need to dispute the incorrect information. You can do so in several ways. One way is to go directly to the source. Another way is to file a dispute with one of the credit bureaus. You can do so online, by telephone, or by mail. By law, the credit bureau must investigate your dispute within 30 to 45 days and inform you of the outcome. Depending on the urgency of the dispute, it may be best to file a dispute with each of the credit bureaus, as it can take several months for the corrected information to be reported to the other credit bureaus, assuming that the information on the credit report is inaccurate. In the unfortunate event that the negative information on the credit report is accurate, you have the option of adding a statement of explanation to your file, explaining the nature of the dispute, for free.
In addition to obtaining, monitoring, and disputing errors on your credit report three times a year, we encourage you to enroll in around-the-clock credit monitoring. When it comes to identity fraud, speed is everything; the sooner you learn of identity fraud, the sooner you can take appropriate action to rectify your identity. We highly recommend IdentityForce, a leading provider of proactive identity, privacy, and credit protection with over 35 years of experience, to all of our clients. With an IdentityForce account, you will receive real time identity and credit report monitoring, instant alerts when suspicious activity is detected, reports of all your personal information that is made public on the internet, anti-keylogging and anti-phishing software to protect you against malware and phishing sites, and more. We encourage you to learn more about IdentityForce and consider enrolling at Yeske Buie’s negotiated rate. Consider this a pre-Holiday season gift to yourself that keeps on giving!