Bonus: Reading your credit report!

Generally people find out about Identity Theft when they start getting calls from collection agencies or they apply for a loan and are turned down. Why? They never check their credit reports! Federal Law now allows you to get your report for free once every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Most people either do not know this or do not think it is important enough to request them.

To effectively combat Identity Theft, you need (1) to pay for a monitoring service or (2) check your credit report every 6 months. Yes, every 6 months even if you have to pay for it. The cost of not knowing what is on your report could cost a lot more.

It will almost always take 60 days minimum to clear a bad item from your report. If you wait until you need good credit – to buy a house, a car, etc., it could be too late by the time you correct any bad information. Like it or not, every 6 months, check your credit report with at least one bureau. Be sure to check every detail. Check every account for everything – balance remaining, payment history, any late payments reported; check for new open accounts; aliases; past addresses; linked social security numbers; employment; etc.

Before you can review your credit report, you have to obtain it. Sadly, many people are victims of Identity Theft as a result of trying to get their credit report to look for Identity Theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) operates a free website at

http://www.annualcreditreport.com

where consumers can obtain their credit report from all three major credit bureaus once a year. One problem is that there are many fake websites with similar names. Some are simply selling Credit Monitoring Services and some are out and out fraud in which the operators are attempting to obtain sensitive and confidential consumer’s information to commit Identity Theft.

The three major credit reporting bureaus:

Transunion
PO Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

http://www.transunion.com

800-525-6285

Equifax
PO Box 105873
Atlanta, GA 30348

http://www.equifax.com

800-680-7289

Experian
PO Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013

http://www.experian.com

888-397-3742

Use the phone only to call and place a flag on your account if you are a victim. The odds of getting someone to answer and actually talk to you about anything else is nil to less then none.

Included in this book is a Free Order Form that you can use to order your credit report as per federal law. However, the credit bureaus fought this law and do everything they can to not obey it. When you send in the request, you may or may not get your reports the first time.

Especially Experian, but the other as well, will even send you back a reply letter that you need to provide additional information before they can send the report. The form letter will then direct you to a website where you can ‘provide the additional information and receive your free credit report’. What you are not told is that this website does not provide the actual free credit report until you sign up for something else – like monthly credit monitoring for (a mere) $29.95 a month or some other service being sold by the Credit Reporting Bureau.

Never, ever forget this: the Credit Bureaus do not work for you. You are their income source, their cash cow. First they want you to pay them to find out what information they have in their files about you and then they will sell that information to banks, loan companies and just about anybody else that will pay for it – including crooks and thieves. Mandates from Congress and threats of additional oversight have forced the credit bureaus in to being more cooperative with Identity Theft victims, but they will still do only what they have to, not necessarily what they should or could do.

Since you can request one report per year from each bureau, you could request one every four months from a different bureau. This way you can inexpensively check your information on a regular basis. But it is your responsibility to request the reports, to read the reports and to report the problems.

Now that you have your Credit Report

Information you should expect to see on your credit report:

Identity Information including name, addresses, social security number, date of birth and employment history.

Credit Files including current open accounts with banks, credit unions, auto finance, retailers, mortgages, etc. Also listed are Paid off accounts less then seven years old. This information is supplied by the lenders (banks, mortgage, etc.).

Public Information including bankruptcies, tax liens, lawsuits, liens and judgments and unpaid child support. This is complied from courthouse records.

Inquiries including information on employers, lenders and others that have requested your file.

Once you have your Credit Report(s) here are things you should be looking at:
A) Do you have aliases?
For women this may include maiden names or if divorced and/or remarried other name combinations. Issues can also creep in by using or not using middle initials when completing official paperwork. The changing of a middle name such as Carl and Earl or Joe and Joey is easy and a common Identity Thief trick.

B) Check Your Birthday.
Your birthday may be wrong because it was entered wrong initially and nobody ever caught it. Or it could be wrong because it was changed by someone committing fraud on your file.

C) How many past and current addresses are listed?
For example, I use a PO Box and a Private Mailbox for mail and packages. Plus I have a home mortgage loan. So my report will show three addresses plus any previous addresses. Check and re-check addresses. A thief using your ID will have mail sent to an address that is not yours. If the police investigate your Identity Theft case, this address is the first place they should check.

D) Check for linked Social Security numbers!
This is so important you may want to check it first. Inadvertent Identity Theft may occur if a data entry clerk enters incorrect information, such as when you are applying for a big screen TV loan. Or when someone else is getting their TV loan. Since the banks are not sure which number belongs to you and which belongs to someone else, you may be associated with both. Their credit file and your credit file are now linked. This may involve someone in another state with a similar name. This is not the same as being merged with your spouse’s accounts.

Also Social Security numbers can be merged thanks to a very few criminal ‘Credit Repair Clinics’. What these crooks do is find someone with a similar name in another city/state that has a good credit history and then substitute the their credit information for the person with bad credit. Shazam – the person with bad credit is improved, the person with good credit is – um, discredited? Worse, if the bad credit person also has warrants or lawsuits, the freedom and property of the good person is now at risk.

Merged or Linked Social Security numbers happen more often then people think. It can be accidental, it can also be on purpose. Either way, correct it!

E) Know every account on your reports.
If there is any account you do not recognize, research it. Even if the account is only a $50 issue and shows current, if you do not know what it is find out. A thief may do a small test transaction to see if it will go through. If so, they are off and running. Know every account! And challenge anything not correct, in writing.

F) Look for any late payment reporting.
Thanks to automated bill processing, stuff happens. You pay on time and the company cashes your check, yet false information makes it into your file and you are reported as late. Another big reason for late payments is someone using your accounts fraudulently. They obviously would not make proper payments. After all, if they paid on time, they would use their own account.

G) Check the remaining balance on open accounts.
This may or may not be tied to Identity Theft, but since you have the information, use it. The balance remaining may not be close to accurate. Do you have a dormant “for emergencies only” credit card that suddenly shows a large balance? This could indicate the account has been compromised. A family member, roommate or close friend may have found the card and started using it to make purchases or get cash.

Paid off accounts may show Owed balances, especially car, RV, or boat loans. A loan company may stop reporting information when the loan is paid off. The account shows as open in your file. This may score against you when you try to obtain a new loan. The new company may assume you have this bill to pay and thus you do not have enough money to pay for any new purchases. If these accounts show as open dispute them with the Credit Bureau and the loan company.

H) Check for Negative Public information.
This could be your first indication of a major problem. If an imposter has committed fraud using your information which resulted in a lawsuit and judgment against you, it will be listed here. Anything listed here should be turned over to a lawyer.

I) Inquires in your credit report.
Information in this section indicates that someone is looking at your file. This is where you will see a listing of businesses that have recently reviewed your file. Some of these inquiries can be the result of someone applying for credit or they can be ‘pre-approval’ inquiries where your file has been sold to companies who may send you an offer in the mail. If there are a large number of inquires, it may indicate someone is attempting to get accounts using your name and social security number.

If you find errors your credit report, immediately report it to the credit bureau. Remember, each of the bureaus compile their own files so you may have different information in each file.

Federal laws obligates both the Credit Bureaus and the reporting firm (bank/loan company) to correct fraudulent information. However, it is your job to identify and report problems to the appropriate parties involved. To protect yourself, you must contact both the Credit Bureau and the reporting company about the incorrect information – and in writing. Certified Mail with Return Receipt is strongly recommended. Although expensive, use Certified/Return Receipt Mail for every communication with the companies until you have received a release – in writing. Although you are communicating in writing for official record, it does not hurt to call and bug them on the phone to get results.

Clearing Disputed items from your Credit Report can be a complex and detailed process. The next few pages detail a few basic steps to clearing your good name. Detailed Credit Report and Reputation repair necessitates a completely separate book.

Remember this important fact: Disputing an item will not remove a legitimate bill or obligation. If you have a legally payable loan or credit card, you can not get it removed just by sending a letter claiming it is a mistake.

The following information is excerpted the FTC website.
The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts. The law also limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card.

To take advantage of the law’s consumer protections, you must:

Write to the creditor at the address given for “billing inquiries,” NOT the address for sending your payments. Include your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error, including the amount and date of the error.
send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. If an identity thief changed the address on your account and you didn’t receive the bill, your dispute letter still must reach the creditor within 60 days of when the creditor would have mailed the bill. This is one reason it’s essential to keep track of your billing statements, and follow up quickly if your bills don’t arrive on time.

You should send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. It becomes your proof of the date the creditor received the letter. Include copies (NOT originals) of your police report or other documents that support your position.
Keep a copy of your dispute letters. Actually, keep copies and detailed notes on everything you send or receive.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.
There are cases where victims do everything right and still spend years dealing with problems related to identity theft. The good news is that most victims can get their cases resolved by being vigilant, assertive and organized. Don’t procrastinate on contacting companies to address the problems. Don’t be afraid to go up the chain of command or make complaints, if necessary. Keep detailed and organized files and notes.
If you haven’t filed a complaint with the FTC, you should do so and provide details of any problems that you are having. You also can call the FTC hotline (1-877-ID-THEFT) to talk with one of the counselors or, for individual counseling, contact one of the non-profit victim associations listed in the phone book.
If your problems are stemming from a failure of a party to perform its legal obligations, you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in such violations. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.