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IDENTITY THEFT AND YOUR CREDIT

Identity theft is a frightening prospect. A home paper shredder can certainly help, but the best way to protect yourself against identity theft before it damages your credit score is to monitor your credit report.

Review your Credit Report

Contrary to popular belief, requesting your own credit report once a year does not lower your score. The Federal Trade Commission has posted a website where it's easy to obtain reports from all three credit bureaus at one time, once a year and for free: https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Or, review your credit by reviewing one bureau's free report every four months.

When you get your reports, go over them thoroughly. Remember, your credit report is a full history of your past and current credit, so in addition to credit cards and loans, you might also see any late payments you made to utilities, landlords, hospitals and the like.

Correcting Inaccurate Information

If you find inaccurate information on your credit reports, you might be a victim of identity theft. While you are not liable for paying charges on your credit cards that you did not make, you are responsible for clearing your name. So start contacting the creditors and be sure to keep detailed lists of the institution you contacted, the person you spoke to (try to get the person's full name and direct phone number), the date and time of contact and the topics discussed. Make sure any information you send through the mail is sent certified so there is a record of when you sent it and when the institution received it. Keep copies of all your records as well.

Fraud Alerts

Ask the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your files. If someone tries to request your credit report, you will be notified. If you truly are a victim of identity theft, when the thief tries to apply for another credit card in your name, you'll be notified when the credit card issuer requests your credit report. You can then take steps to find out who is trying to apply for credit under your name. Fraud alerts typically last for 90 to 180 days, but you may request in writing that you would like it to last for any period of time up to seven years.

Other People to Contact

If you see credit card accounts listed on your credit report that you didn't open, ask the bureaus for the names and phone numbers of the credit card companies and contact each one. If someone is using credit card numbers for accounts that you opened and are also using, contact the credit companies, tell them about the erroneous charges and ask them to issue a new account number and cards and deactivate the old account numbers.

Tell your local police or sheriff's department about your identify theft and make sure your stolen or unauthorized accounts are listed in your police report.

The three credit bureaus:

Equifax
www.equifax.com

Experian
www.experian.com

TransUnion
www.transunion.com

Remember, prevention is the best solution to stopping identity theft, so get your free credit reports and check them to keep your credit ratings in good standing.