By Phil Roberts, Bleakley Advisory Group
January 2020 - At the start of each year, remind yourself – and write it down in your calendar: obtain a free copy of
your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies – that’s one report every 4 months.
This way – you can monitor your credit history throughout the year. Start again each new year, and you have a rolling, continuous program. You’re allowed to obtain one report from each agency per calendar year.
In these days of data security breaches, stolen identities and cyber threats of all sorts, protecting your personal information isn’t a luxury anymore – it’s a necessity.
Go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com. They will ask you to enter your social security number, but this is one case where I’d be comfortable doing so over the web. They will also ask you for some additional information to verify your identity - like a former address, or what your first car was, etc. Once logged in – download the reports from one of the three agencies (Equifax, TranUnion, Experian), and carefully review the information contained in each of them for accuracy.
What to look for?
You may be surprised by what you find! These reports won’t give you an actual Credit (or FICO) Score; just the information used to calculate it (but most credit cards or Mint.com provide this service for free these days). Anything that looks suspicious or unfamiliar should be reported to each respective agency and the company reporting the information. Look particularly at "Inquiries" and "Applications," which could reveal that someone is poking around. But you should do this routinely...and some people even check their kids' credit reports...a relatively new scam is to steal younger people's identities since they're less likely to be aware
of changes to their credit profiles.
Before you start closing old [valid] accounts in an attempt to “clean things up,” make sure you understand the impact such a decision could have on your credit score, especially if you anticipate applying for a car loan, mortgage or something else in the near future.
Also – be sure to check out the steps involved in putting a “Fraud Alert” on your credit profile, if you think that would be warranted. This might be as far as you have to go (Go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com/protectYourIdentity.action for more information). A lot of people just automatically put a "FREEZE" on their credit to minimize fraud, but this has its downside, too.
Here’s another resource with valuable information: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Steps
About the Author
Bleakley Advisory Group