Are you one of the 13 million people who purchased “identity theft protection” in 2009? If so, you wasted your money. Identity theft protection companies push statistics like “almost 11 million adults were victims of identity theft in 2009” while prodding you to purchase a service that could cost up to $179.00 per year. What they fail to advise is that identity theft protection does not cover account take-overs, the misuse of debits cards, or the establishment of personal identification (such as a driver license) in your name.
I am happy to report that almost all of the services provided by identity theft protection companies are available at little or no cost. There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.
REVIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORT
By keeping close tabs on your credit report, you can identify signs of fraud early. If you find an account not opened by you and have positively identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute with the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. You can obtain a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or (877) 322-8228. When you pay for identity theft protection, this free credit report is one of the “benefits” they tout.
PLACE A 90-DAY INITIAL FRAUD ALERT ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Call the credit reporting agencies and request a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report. Not only will this trigger a free credit report but will advise potential creditors to investigate any application prior to issuing credit, goods, benefits, services, and/or employment. Contact Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742 and Trans Union at (800) 916-8800. When you pay for identity theft protection, this fraud alert is one of the “benefits” they tout.
FREEZE YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Identity thieves and creditors are frozen in their tracks without access to your credit report as they will not have access to your credit history. In Florida, you are entitled to temporarily “freeze” access to your credit profile without cost if you are over 65 years of age or are a verified victim of identity theft. All others must pay $10.00. Without access to your credit report, a responsible lender will not issue credit. When you pay for identity theft protection, a credit report freeze is one of the “benefits” they tout.
STOP UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARD OFFERS
Are you tired of junk mail filling your mail box? Opting out at www.optoutprescreen.com or (888) 5OPT-OUT will stop most unsolicited pre-approved applications and reduce the incidence of identity theft. Opting-Out refers to the process of removing your name from lists supplied by Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis to be used for firm (preapproved / prescreened) offers of credit or insurance. When paying for identity theft protection, opting out is one of the “benefits” they tout.
BUY A CROSS-CUT SHREDDER
“Dumpster diving” is still a very popular method of obtaining credit card applications and supporting documentation. Purchase a cross-cut shredder that cuts vertically and horizontally, turning sensitive mail into confetti. If you think a torn up credit card application will be rejected by a credit card company, you have not heard the story of how Chase approved a ripped up application.
While the Credit Card Act of 2009 has mandated a number of changes in relation to “free credit reports,” the area of identity theft protection is an area to watch. Reduced fees in one area will only mean enhanced fees in another. There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.
William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.