Before applying for an automobile, credit card, or home mortgage loan, it’s a good idea to check your credit report for errors. Banks, credit unions, auto finance and mortgage lenders have all raised the bar when making credit granting decisions. Long gone are the days when a 620 FICO credit score sufficed. Borrowers with bad credit are being turned down or forced to pay significantly higher interest rates when applying. Those with low credit scores have even been denied employment opportunities and automobile insurance.
Negative information contained in credit reports – such as late payments, collection accounts and public record entries – determine whether you can obtain credit, goods, benefits, services, employment and/or insurance. It’s important to review your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports on a regular basis and correct any information that is inaccurate, erroneous, obsolete, or fraudulent due to possible identity theft.
Don’t be scammed by the numerous “free credit report” opportunities found on the Internet. While dozens of companies offer that so-called “free credit report,” many of them have strings attached, such as subscription-based opt-in requiring you to provide credit card information.
You really can obtain a free copy of your credit report.
Under a narrow set of circumstances, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report directly from the credit reporting agencies. If you have been denied credit, goods, benefits, services, employment or insurance, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are statutorily mandated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide a copy without charge.
When ordering credit reports, be sure to indicate that you were denied credit, goods, benefits, services and/or employment when prompted. Absent these exceptions, you are entitled to one free “annual credit report” per year. For your free annual credit report, contact the central source at 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-8228) or online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Follow the voice prompts and obtain your credit report for review.
Credit scores are not included with any of the “free credit reports” provided by the national credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Expect more, pay less has brought new meaning as Target announced this week how shoppers can enroll in a free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service in the wake of a massive data heist.
According to a specially dedicated website, the retailer will offer customers the service for one year.
Target customers can register for the service — regardless whether they have been personally affected by the theft of customer data records at the discount store chain.
The announcement comes after Target revealed last week that the massive security breach may have affected up to 110 million of its customers during the holiday shopping season and included more types of confidential information than previously disclosed.
Target had previously reported that about 40 million credit and debit cards may have been affected by the breach that occurred between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.
“I know that it is frustrating for our guests to learn that this information was taken and we are truly sorry they are having to endure this,” stated Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Target in a written statement. “I also want our guests to know that understanding and sharing the facts related to this incident is important to me and the entire Target team.”
While continuing to investigate, Target now indicates that an additional 70 million customers were impacted by the theft of their names, phone numbers, and email and mailing addresses. Some of the information stolen in the data breach belonged to customers who shopped before the holiday season.
“They all claim to care about protecting us from identity theft, but their very similar privacy policies don’t appear to support these claims,” stated Denise Richardson, herself a victim of identity theft and author of “Give Me Back My Credit.” “It’s difficult to believe they are as interested in protecting our personal info as they are in protecting their business model in an ecosystem comprised of undisclosed partners, affiliates, vendors, alliances, resellers and contractors who, along with any other undisclosed third party they warn they buy, sell or share our data with.”
Surpassing an incident uncovered in 2007 that saw more than 45 million credit and debit cards stolen from Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, the Target data breach is the largest reported ever for a retailer.
“Within a day of enrolling in the credit monitoring service, I received details to check my credit,” Remington Longstreth, a frequent Target shopper told Examiner. “I’m going to use this service to supplement what I already have to protect my good name and reputation in the community.”
In addition to the Target credit monitoring service, impacted customers may also protect themselves from potential identity theft.
Periodically review your credit report
By keeping close tabs on your credit report, you can detect signs of identity theft early. If you find an account not opened by you and have identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute directly with the creditor as well as with the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Place a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report
Contact 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 and/or services.
Equifax can be contacted at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and Trans Union at 800-916-8800. Be sure to renew the alert every three months.
Freeze your credit report
Identity thieves are frozen in their tracks without access to your credit report as potential creditors will not have access to your credit history. In most states, 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 may be required to pay a small fee. Without access to your credit report, a responsible lender will not issue credit.
Stop unsolicited credit card offers
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 and address from lists supplied by the Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and Innovis credit reporting agencies to be used for firm (preapproved/ prescreened) offers of credit or insurance.
“Freezing our credit and keeping a vigilant eye on our accounts ourselves continues to be the only way we have any control over our data, at least until there is far more transparency and a lot less sharing of data,” concluded Richardson.
Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.