I wanted to write down 3-4 easy steps to protect yourself from identity theft and help you check your free annual credit reports.
Credit check options
- If you haven’t checked your credit in the last year, visit the official site that lets you get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. The site is annualcreditreport.com and you’ll have to be on the lookout for upsells like “Find out your credit score for $5.95″ or “Sign up for a credit monitoring service.” But this option is a safe and free way to get access to your credit report from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
- Suppose you don’t want credit card companies sending you offers by snail mail. After all, a thief could steal the offer from your mailbox and use it to open a credit card in your name. Again, there’s a free, official service from the three major credit bureaus to stop getting “free credit cards” offer by postal mail. The site is www.optoutprescreen.com. You can opt-out online for five years, or print out and mail a piece of paper to do a permanent opt-out.
- If you had any type of open credit account between 1987 and May 28, 2008 (which is probably most adults in the United States), you can receive nine months of free credit monitoring. TransUnion, one of the big three credit unions, is settling a class action lawsuit and provides this monitoring for free if you sign up before September 24, 2008. The official site is www.listclassaction.com and you can choose from several options. I chose the nine month credit monitoring service.
If you think you might have been a victim of identity theft or are at higher risk for identity theft (e.g. someone stole a laptop that might have had personal information on it), you have a couple options. A fraud alert requests that before a new lender opens up an account, they take extra steps to verify your identity like calling you on the phone. It should be free if you call the credit bureaus, but it only lasts for 90 days, so you would need to renew the fraud alert every three months.
Meanwhile, a credit freeze is just what it sounds like. It freezes your credit record completely, so that identity thieves should not be able to open new credit accounts in your name. A credit freeze costs $10 per credit bureau each time you want to freeze or un-freeze your credit record.
I used the first three websites earlier to get my free credit report, opt out of getting more credit card offers, and sign up to for a credit monitoring service. Again, all of these are free or official sites; I don’t get any money for recommending them.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also get a public records report on yourself to see what turns up. I believe you can get this report free once a year as well from ChoicePoint. You can get more information here but I believe the short answer is that you need to print, fill out, and mail this one-page form (PDF link). You need to include a photocopy of your driver’s license or other ID and a copy of a utility/phone/credit card bill — see the instructions for the form (PDF link) for more info.
Do you know of other ways to protect yourself from identity theft or otherwise monitor your credit record or score?