Identity Theft - How Credit Reports Can Help

Obtain a credit report yearly, prior to every major purchase, or if fraud is suspected.

A credit report is a printout that lists each of the credit cards, loans, mortgages, and other debts a consumer has on record with the federal government.  A common misconception is that a credit report references only a consumer's credit cards.  Items included in your credit report that consumers often overlook are doctor bills, cell phone bills, car payments and rental payments.  If you get behind on any payment that you have contracted to make, it will negatively affect your credit report, and you will have what is called a "low credit score."  However, if you never have any cards, you will never have a record of timely payments ("good" credit), and will likewise have a low credit score. It is almost impossible to get a loan for a house or a car if you have a bad credit rating. Therefore, one of the primary concerns of identity theft is the extreme negative impact it can have on your credit report and credit score.  For example, if you do not even know you have the credit card, or the bill, you are probably not paying it.

There are three major credit reporting agencies nationally. Usually, a fee is assessed for them to generate your credit report.  However, in 2003, due to exponentially increasing identity fraud, President Bush signed the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA mandated that every taxpayer was allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies.  More information about this can be obtained at, as well as how you go about requesting them.  In addition to the annual complimentary report, you are also entitled to a free credit report if; you are unemployed and seeking employment, on public welfare or suspect errors due to fraud.  To receive your free credit report, simply contact one (or all three) of the agencies.

If you are a victim of identity theft, or suspect fraud, you can contact the credit agencies to place a "fraud alerts" on your credit accounts to signal potential creditors that you may be a victim of identify theft or fraud.  This alerts them to ask additional questions, and make follow-up phone calls, to ascertain the identity of those asking for new accounts to be opened. You only have to contact one of the credit agencies, and the same alert will go out to all three.

If you are active duty military or national guard, especially if you are leaving on deployment, it as a good idea to contact the credit reporting agencies to place an "Active Duty Alert" on your account.  This alerts credit card companies and banks to scrutinize applications with extra care, because that person is probably out of country and unable to monitor as carefully themselves.  In addition, they are unlikely to be making applications at this time.

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