Showing posts with label personal finance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label personal finance. Show all posts

The Real Cost of Identity Theft

The Real Cost of Identity Theft
It is no secret that having your identity stolen is something you should actively protect yourself against. Resolving an identity theft is time consuming, may cause you to have credit requests denied, and leaves people feeling personally invaded. However, many people do not realize that their finances could take a significant hit after one’s identity is stolen, often in surprising ways. Every situation is different and much of the damage is not easily quantifiable.  When thinking about the potential cost of having your identity stolen, consider the following factors:
  • Time – When your identity is stolen, there is a long list of tasks you must complete immediately, including filling out an identity theft report, freezing your credit and requesting copies of your credit report. This takes time, often a lot of time, which takes away from other activities, such as spending time with family or possibly working. You will also need to carefully review your credit report regularly for the next few years to make sure new instances of fraud do not show up.
  • Higher interest rates – Identity theft victims may see their credit scores drop over time after a thief hasused stolen personal information to open a loan or new credit account and thendefaulted on payments.  In the meantime, this means that if your car is totaled in an accident and you apply for a car loan, you may end up paying a higher interest rate due to your damaged credit score.
  • Loss of Opportunity Costs – In some cases, your credit may be so damaged that you cannot even get a loan after an identity theft, according to a survey conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center. This means you may not be able to buy the renovated condo down the street that is a fantastic deal, but instead pay a higher price next year for a unit in need of an update.
The bottom line is that each time your identity is stolen, you will face unexpected costs, both in dollars and hours. The best solution is to take steps to protect your identity. And spending a small amount each month to help keep your identity secure and prevent widespread damage if fraud is detected can end up saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.

8 Tips to Avoid ATM Identity Theft

ATM's are conveniently located, easy to use and provide us with an easy way to get some quick cash with just a swipe of a card and a few keystrokes.  This makes them a staple of everyday life here in the U.S. and unfortunately, a great target for thieves.  Since their early days, ATM's have been targeted by criminals in many different ways.  However, recent advances in technology have transformed ATM theft into a state of the art operation.

No longer does someone need to stand near you or look over your shoulder to secretly read your personal identification number or account information.  This can now be accomplished by the use of miniature cameras and electronic reading (a.k.a. skimming) devices.  These particular cameras are usually fitted into a false top on an ATM located directly above the keypad.  Skimmers can be positioned as a fake card slot that fits over the real slot on the ATM or as a false insert over the magnetic reader on the door to the lobby or entrance point of the ATM.

When an ATM user swipes his/her card to enter the lobby or inserts the card at the ATM, the false reader takes the bank account number and stores it on an electronic device or feeds it via wireless transmission to a storage facility on a computer or other external device.  The user’s pin is then read by the small hidden camera and is used in conjunction with the bank account number (and other bank information that may now be accessed)  to immediately withdraw funds, create new debit cards or open new credit accounts.

You can protect yourself against fraud and potential identity theft by being cautious whenever using your credit/debit card at any ATM and by following a few simple tips:

1. Try to avoid using private ATM's located at restaurants, bars or other small establishments, as these are usually privately owned and don’t have the same security features as those found in banks or other larger enterprises.

2. Avoid free standing or unsecured ATM's that are outdoors as these are very easy to rig with skimming devices and/or cameras.

3. Check the magnetic strip that is used on the access door to the ATM machine to be sure that it has not been tampered with in any way.  Thieves can insert false strips that can read the card’s information when it is slid through to gain entry.

4. Look around for hidden cameras that may be spying on ATM users in order to get access codes and other information during the login procedure.

5. Take a good look at the ATM machine itself prior to inserting your card to make sure that the slot for the card and/or the keypad have not been tampered with or altered in any way.

6. Try to always cover your hand when you use the keypad to enter your PIN.  This helps prevent any cameras from capturing your keystrokes.

7. If you have a problem where cash is not distributed from the ATM, notify your bank immediately.  It may be a legitimate problem with the machine, but you shouldn't take any chances.  Reporting the problem as soon as possible documents your action in case there is any fraud involved.

8. Monitor your bank account through your bank statements and check your credit reports regularly.

You can further protect yourself from ATM and other fraud by using a credit monitoring service like PrivacyGuard that offers numerous services including identity theft protection and identity fraud support services.

Appreciating Credit Reports: 3 Ways They Make Life Easier

Credit reports can sometimes be overwhelming and overlooked; especially when keeping track of the three main bureaus that offer credit reports. Understanding and appreciating credit reports can be beneficial, because many times, what you don’t know may hurt you.

Here are 3 benefits to keeping track of your credit:

1) They offer you a clear indicator of your financial health.
It’s easy to keep track of a huge chunk of your financial activity using your credit report. Here, you can find all your loans and credit cards listed on one document. You can also see the status and payment history for each account. Notable public records such as bankruptcy filings may also be found here.

With all of this information on one piece of paper it might also be easier for you to spot any inaccuracies or errors as they’re all on one record. Do keep in mind that your credit report does not hold all financial information as found in your bank statements. Be sure to monitor both.

Credit reports also offer some insight if you’ve been rejected for a loan or a credit card application. After all, if your credit scores are low, it may be harder to get approval for a loan. But if your credit score is high enough, you can consider using it as proof to back you up when making an appeal.

2) You’ll know who checks your credit history.
Businesses and organizations can check your credit history for various reasons. Some do “hard” inquiries (credit checks that can affect your credit scores) to see how credit-worthy you are when you apply for a loan, while others want to see your standing as part of a background check. In some cases, businesses can do “soft” (credit checks that do not affect your credit score) checks on your credit for pre-qualification to promotional campaigns.

Having too many “hard” inquiries performed on your file in a short span of time can be a red flag to lenders. You might come off as desperate and it could diminish your credit score. If the companies doing “hard” checks on you don’t seem familiar, this could be an early sign that someone is trying to create accounts under your name in a case of identity theft.

3) Detect identity theft.
Lenders may report all the activity under your name to the 3 main credit bureaus. Since all of these are on your credit report, it can help you spot accounts made under your name without permission. 

If you discover any such accounts or inaccuracies on your credit report, it might be a sign of identity theft. Consider checking your credit report regularly to spot these.

These are just three ways to keep track of your credit report to make life a little easier.

Strong Passwords: Your First Line of Defense Against Identity Theft

To steal your identity online, thieves just need to know something as simple as your password. Creating one that’s strong is crucial to keeping your identity safe. After all, a weak password can be easily cracked by a computer program or guessed by a savvy hacker.

Here are a few important details to consider when creating a strong password:

• Think outside of the box: 
Steer clear of common passwords. Thieves often try to open accounts by using passwords that are used by a lot of people. According to a source, these include ‘password’, ‘ninja’, 123456, and so on.

• Steer clear of personal information: 
Avoid using your birthday, Social Security number, or other personal information as a password. If you use personal information as your password, it might not just be your account that’s gone when you’re hacked. You can have your identity stolen with the same information.

• Additional characters: 
Intricate numbers, uppercase letters, and special characters may help make passwords harder to guess for both human hackers and programs. So instead of using something like “soulfulsiren,” try making it stronger and use “soulfulSireN34.” Thankfully, many sites nowadays require users to create these complex passwords when they register. 

• Change the default password: 
Consider changing the default password. It’s usually the same password given to everyone who signs up on a website. This can also be true for electronic gadgets like smartphones and wireless routers. So if you don’t want anyone tampering with your account or gadget when it gets lost, try to remember to change the default password.

• Switch it up: 
You may want to use a variety of passwords for all of your accounts. That way, when one account is hacked, your other accounts can remain safe. To make it easy for you to remember multiple passwords, consider using a theme. For example, a food-themed password series could have “pestoparmigianacheese23!” for one account, and “fusillisushi235 (tempura)” for another account.

Learn more about these principles that can be helpful to prevent hackers from breaking into your account at

Does Credit Bureau Matter?

If you've had any experience dealing with credit, you may know that there are three main credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. And, if you've looked at your credit report recently, you might have noticed that your 3 bureau scores are different. Does this mean that one bureau is better than another? Not necessarily. In fact, it can be helpful to look at all three credit reports and scores.

Here are three noteworthy reasons to consider when looking at all three credit reports:

• Different information. Each of your three credit reports may be mostly similar, but sometimes lenders can report information to one bureau and not the other. While the bureaus share the information they're given, it can sometimes take a while, so your reports may differ in terms of what is listed. This means that it may be a good idea to look at all three credit reports so that you can double check your listed information.

• Errors. Just like different information may show up on different reports, all three credit reports could have different errors. One source says close to 52 million Americans could have credit report errors, which can hurt your score.  In order to fix errors, it’s good to first be aware of them. Regularly checking and staying on top of all three of your credit reports can help limit these types of errors. 

• Identity Theft. Another reason to monitor your credit report is to protect yourself from identity theft. For example, if someone tries to defraud an account that is only listed on your Experian report, and hasn't yet made it to your Equifax report, the thief may have a better chance of successfully stealing your identity. To stop identity thieves in their tracks, try to routinely monitor your credit report and bank accounts for suspicious activity.

At PrivacyGuard, we offer one of the most comprehensive programs to keep track of your credit. We monitor all three bureaus for any changes to your credit file, and we help you see updated credit reports and scores on a monthly basis. Our credit-monitoring services also double as a safeguard from identity theft because we can provide your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion reports daily and alert you if certain changes occur or if a new account is opened.

Five Credit Mistakes Brides Should Avoid

Whether you're a bride-to-be who dreams of a summer time or winter time wedding, there is one thing you most likely aren't dreaming of-- credit mistakes. No matter what season you'll be saying your vows in, there are five big credit mistakes that you should try to avoid.

1. Wedding debt. While every bride imagines a beautiful wedding that will be absolutely perfect, they probably don't fantasize about just how much their ideal wedding can cost. On average, couples can spend about $25,000 on their wedding  potentially putting themselves into major debt for the big day. While this doesn't mean you should completely rethink your wedding plans, try taking precautions of what you can afford and where you can cut costs.

2. You don't share credit scores. While saying "I Do" signifies a lifetime of commitment to your spouse, it doesn't signify a commit to their credit scores! Your credit scores aren't impacted by your marital status and you won't take on your spouse's scores or vice versa. Everyone has their own credit score. 

3. Co-signing a loan. While your credit scores may not be affected by your marital status, couples can co-sign loans together, which can have an impact on each other's credit scores. So, when possible, it is better to have one partner or the other sign for a loan instead of co-signing. However, be aware that in some states, you could still be held liable, even if you don't co-sign on the purchase. 

4. You can't change others' credit habits. Even though you won't be taking on your spouse's credit scores, it’s a good idea to be on the same page with finances. Finances can be a touchy subject among couples , as you may have different opinions about budgeting, debt, credit and money. If your spouse has a lower scores or a different view on finances, consider having a conversation with them about the importance of good scores for achieving your long-term goals. 

5. Making only one partner financially responsible. In many households, one spouse ends up handling the finances for the entire family. However, this can be dangerous as it leaves the other spouse in the dark when it comes to the household's financial situation, which can lead to potentially poor credit choices.  

Every bride’s wedding day should be the happiest day of their life, so don't let poor credit decisions ruin your happily ever after!

To keep up with where your credit scores stand with the three credit bureaus during your wedding planning, sign up for PrivacyGuard.

Celebrate Your Labor Of Love, Your Credit Score, This Labor Day

As Labor Day is quickly approaching, many Americans across the nation are looking forward to celebrating the hard work they have put in all year long. However, your job isn't the only labor of love that can pay off, having a good credit score can too. 

Even though your salary isn't included in your credit history, items such as your payment history and use of available credit are. And, while these may not be on the top of your list of financial priorities since they don't show an immediate financial gain, if you work at them long enough, they can result in more money in your pocket.

Here are a few of the financial benefits that can come from having a good credit score:

• Help you get a new job. If you aren't yet employed, are in between jobs, or are looking to start down a new career path; having a good credit score can impress your potential employer. In a previous blog post, we talked about how many Americans were required to go through a credit check when applying for a job. Thus, it’s very important to keep tabs on your credit scores! 

• Lower your interest rates. One of the many reasons why lenders check your credit scores is to not only determine loan eligibility and amounts, but also your interest rate. By having a higher credit score, you may qualify for a lower interest rate, which can result in significant savings over the life of the loan.

• Better insurance policies. A higher credit score indicates that you are a lower insurance risk. Therefore insurance companies may oftentimes look at your credit history to see your previous repayment history before setting the terms of your insurance policy.

At, you can sign up for daily credit monitoring that will give you access to your three credit reports and scores. Try to make sure your two labors of love, your job and your credit score, are providing you with the most financial benefit possible this Labor Day weekend. 

The Difference Between Good Debt and Bad Debt

Debt - most of us can’t stand it. When we think about how much we owe on our homes, cars, student loans, credit cards, etc., it can be overwhelming. Have you ever wished that you could just win the lottery so that you could pay off your debt? Just a high enough jackpot to pay off your bills to live debt free would be great, right? 

Well, don’t wish away all of your debt. In the eyes of lenders, there is such a thing as “good” debt and bad debt and it’s helpful to know the difference.

Lenders may be more favorable with certain debts. Having debt on something that could increase in value over time and may contribute to your overall financial health could be considered “good” debt. 

Here are two examples of “good” debt:

• Home purchase – Homes usually appreciate in value, so your mortgage loan may be considered an investment. 
• Student loans – This debt may be considered “good” because it’s usually used towards education – which in turn could help you earn money over a lifetime.

So what is a bad debt? Disposable finances or money spent on things you don’t necessarily need can be considered bad debt.

Below are two examples of bad debt:

• Going out – It’s easy to look past these “small” expenses, but they can easily build up. Shopping sprees, going out to dinner and movies can be considered bad debt. 
• Vacations – That trip to the Bahamas you were planning on going to later this year before you paid off your other bills could be another example.

There’s a fine line between “good” and bad debt and it can be easy to lose track of your expenses. Consider getting your credit history by regularly reviewing your credit report. This may be helpful when prioritizing your payment plans for the future. 

Four Credit Myths Debunked

It's no secret that there are plenty of myths when it comes to your credit scores. Just because you've heard something all of your life, or heard it from someone you trust, doesn't necessarily make it true. 

Here are four common credit myths debunked:

1. Myth: One score is all I need to check. Maybe you checked your score with one of the bureaus, and everything looked good, so you moved on with your busy life. Think again. Creditors won't necessarily just look at one score; they could look at all three primary credit reporting bureau scores (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) to get a complete picture of your payment habits. These three scores are rarely identical. You may have to look at all 3 main credit bureaus to make sure they have the right information and credit history.

2. Myth: It is impossible to take out a loan if I don’t have any credit. When reviewing your credit application, lenders look at your identification, account history, public records and inquiries. If you don't have a credit history, you may have to have another person with an established credit history co-sign on your loan –but it isn't impossible.

3. Myth: High income and credit scores make for the best credit card deals. If you have a high income and a high credit score, you may be receiving great credit card offers with fantastic sounding rewards in the mail.  It may not be because of your credit standing however. Paying attention to the interest rates and annual fees on these offers can help you make sure you really are getting the best deal. Oftentimes, these better rewards come at a higher cost.

4. Myth: I'm only responsible for half of joint debt. Sharing a loan with another person doesn't necessarily mean you are simply responsible for half of it. Both you and the co-borrower are fully responsible for the debt. This means even if you are just co-signing so that someone else can get a credit card or a loan, the amount of credit they are taking out is added to your debt-to-income ratio. If they make late payments or don't pay at all, this credit history can also be added to your credit report.

As with anything, it's important to be educated on the myths and realities of credit.

Is Social Media the Next Big Credit Score Factor?

If you think your social media posts, photos, and activities are only interesting to your family and friends -- think again. It’s entirely possible your boss or future boss is taking a look at your public social profile to know more about your personality and character. Marketers, on the other hand, would gladly want to know what you like and dislike about products and services to better serve your needs and wants.

If social media content proves to be useful in background checks and marketing, can it also be used for checking credit worthiness?

With the massive amount of information posted online – 58 million average tweets per day, 4.5 billion Facebook likes, and 40 million Instagram photos - lenders may find it hard to ignore social media. It’s a vast new frontier waiting to be tamed, but how?

Start-up lenders like Neo Finance, Lendo, and Affirm are defying the traditional credit score model used by the 3 big credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Instead of relying mainly on traditional credit scores, they can sometimes consider more social factors of the applicant to gauge their credit worthiness.
Critics would argue that this type of system is vulnerable to fraud, while proponents would say that it could open up a lot of opportunities, especially for people with vague or less than great credit histories.

So, what are the pros and cons of using social media to estimate ones’ credit worthiness?


• Authentic social media profiles are hard to fake – everyone can register for more than one profile per social network. All you need are different email addresses. However, the authenticity of a social profile is easy to determine with one look. Immediately, you can recognize the genuine profile from the feel of items in the timeline and the connections that the account’s owner has built over the years. Con artists will be hard-pressed to replicate an authentic profile because natural social media behavior takes time, intellectual and emotional investments.

• Quality over quantity – Traditional credit scores rely on cold and hard figures. The nuances of personality and character are not considered when evaluating loans and interest rates. The result is that deserving businesses and individuals are sometimes denied loans because their numbers didn’t look right. In considering the social content, a lender could see the human element that could explain causes of low credit scores such as a sudden sickness or job layoffs.


• Bias issue – A traditional credit report is blind to race, religion, gender, status, and other personal background that may result in unfair profiling. It upholds the principles of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that prevents discrimination against loan applicants.

In social media, a credit approver can sometimes plainly see information such as race, age, sexual preference. This can open the credit applicant to stereotyping and prejudice that they could have avoided with regular credit profiling.

• Privacy issues-With the public growing increasingly wary about online privacy, not every creditor or bank has taken the leap of faith with using data on these websites for credit assessment. While most major banks use social media for marketing and outreach, they are often discreet when it comes to their stances on viewing the information of their target customers. As such, not every creditor is buying in to the social media trend. This makes social media still a vastly unexplored and unproven credit scoring aspect.

While traditional credit bureaus are still not incorporating social media in their algorithms, it could really just be a matter of time. In fact, it has been reported that Equifax is testing how social media sites can help prevent financial fraud.

Maybe it’s time you take a second look at how you use your social media. And be sure to think twice before posting those photos of you from college that you wouldn’t even want your grandmother to see!

Add Credit Awareness To Your Back To School Shopping List

If you're the parent of a student, you're probably already aware of the fact that the start of the new school year is just around the corner. And, while you may be overjoyed that your kids are heading back to the classroom, you might not be thrilled about what it can cost you. However, with a little planning, you can keep this year's school supply shopping from turning into a credit nightmare.

1. Establish a plan. Before you rush out to the stores, try to make a plan and a budget. Figure out exactly what your kids need, what you already have at home and how much you have to spend. Figuring out what you can realistically afford can help keep yourself from having to swipe your credit card for a surprisingly big payment.

2. Use discretion when dealing with the option to open retailer credit cards. Chances are you've considered the “too good to be true” credit card offer at the checkout counter. This may be tempting, but you might want to resist the temptation and stick with your original method of payment. While these upfront savings may be nice, if you can afford to pay for it now, you might save yourself from potentially racking up interest costs later.

3. Use sales tax holidays. One way to save if you're on a tight budget is to take advantage of your state's tax-free holiday. Generally held over a weekend or a whole week, you can  make school-related purchases tax free, which could save you hundreds of dollars.

Being aware of your three credit reports and scores before you hit the stores can help save you from making mistakes that will potentially negatively affect your credit score.

To make sure you're at the top of the class when it comes to your personal credit report knowledge, visit the PrivacyGuard website.

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores: Part 2

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores: Part 2

 What’s The Difference?

Continued from Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores: Part 1, this section focuses on a few common misunderstandings about credit scores.

The most common misunderstandings about credit scores involve (but are not limited to) the following:

Your credit score is a single number: In the US, there are three major credit bureaus that collect and maintain credit information: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Each bureau has its own specified and customized formula to determine your final credit rating. Banks, lenders and insurance companies also have their own models for computing their clients’ credit scores; therefore, your credit standing can vary from one evaluator to another. There are also a number of consumer scoring services available that utilize similar, though different algorithms to calculate your credit scores.

More money means a higher credit score: Income is not included when looking at your credit scores. The scores reflect how well you manage your credit regardless of your income.

Credit scores go down when checked: There are two types of inquiries – soft and hard. A soft inquiry is when you check your own scores through a third party service. You can check your own scores as often as you like, without negatively impacting your credit standing. A hard inquiry on the other hand happens when a third-party source checks your credit information. For example, if you’re securing a loan to buy a new car, the car dealer may check your credit information at one or more of the three major credit bureaus. This would reflect on your credit reports at one or more of the bureaus. Too many hard inquiries in a short amount of time could adversely impact your credit rating and scores. 

Keep a close eye on your credit reports from each of the bureaus and be mindful of the elements listed above. All in all, it can take a bit of patience and vigilance, but you’ll be rewarded with peace of mind and possibly a stronger credit standing.

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores: Part 1

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores: Part 1

What's The Difference?

What’s the difference between a credit report and a credit score? Some people think that credit reports and credit scores are one in the same. That’s not true. A credit report is an in-depth record of your credit history, while a score is an algorithmic rating based on your credit information. 

Your credit reporting includes a wide range of information about your credit standing and history, such as:

Who you are: This includes your name, social security number, date of birth, and in some cases, employment information.
Your credit: This is composed of your credit card accounts, mortgages, car loans, school and other loans, how much credit you have paid, and your payment history.
Your public record: This contains information about court proceedings and decisions for or against you, tax incentive grants or tax liens, or bankruptcies.
Inquiries: This simply contains a list of all the companies and people who recently requested a copy of your credit report. These are also known as “hard inquiries”. 

A credit score on the other hand, is a numerical assessment of your credit standing  based on the information in your credit report. Determinants of your credit scoring generally include the following:

Type and duration of accounts: Examples of these are your loans, mortgages and credit cards, and how long you've had them for.
Bill payment history: Late payment history could adversely impact your scores. Payment history is one of the more important determinants of your credit scoring. 
Available credit: Your credit utilization ratio – based on your reported credit limits and how much of that credit has been used – can also impact your scores. Higher utilization rates can adversely impact your credit score. This is why you may want to consider keeping older credit cards that may have extra balance capacity (which can offset utilization rate).
Outstanding debt: This includes all other loans and credits granted to you other than those previously mentioned. Too much debt, or numerous debt/credit lines opened in a short amount of time, could adversely impact your credit scores.

Be sure to check out Part 2 on common misunderstandings about credit scores.

Credit And Your Post-College Life

Credit Report and Scores For College

As many new college graduates don their cap and gown, a symbol of your official entrance into the "real world," there may be a few things you still need to learn that weren't taught in any Psychology 101 class.

Young graduates are often faced with making their own money decisions for the first time. This can be a scary experience if you don't quite yet understand the impact your financial choices can have. 

So, as you begin this new phase of your life, here are 5 key things you should know about your credit standing:

1. Good Credit Is Key-- Having a good credit score with a solid credit history is one of the most important things anyone, and especially a young graduate, can realize. A strong credit score can open up opportunities for lower insurance rates, help you avoid paying security deposits, and assist you in securing a new job.

2. Being In Debt Doesn't Equal Having Good Credit-- A common myth is that you have to be in debt to build credit. However, this isn't necessarily the case. What is true is that you have to use credit to build a credit profile. One way to do this is by securing a credit card that you pay off each month. Another is by securing a car loan with monthly payments.

3. On-Time Payment Is the Most Important Thing You Can Do-- When it comes to establishing a solid credit history, the best thing you can do is to make your payments on time. This is one of the biggest factors influencing your credit report, which means a missed payment can hurt you. To make sure you're always on time with credit card and other payments, consider sending payments two weeks to 10 days in advance of their due date.

4. Credit Cards Are Loans-- While you may think of your credit card as a fountain of endless money, it's not. Even though credit cards seem a fast and relatively easy way to build credit when used properly, you need to remember that the credit you’re utilizing is actually a loan from the credit card issuer that must be repaid.

5. Identity Theft Is Real-- While you may feel like you are invincible, your finances and your identity definitely are not. And, with personal information used frequently during this time period for any number of things, (registering for classes, applying for jobs, etc.) accessing your information can be easier.

For more advice on credit score -related matters, be sure to check out the PrivacyGuard blog.

How To Detect Identity Theft With Your Credit Report: Part 2

Continued Post: Steps 4-7

4. Check the public records information. This section contains information from government agencies such as the federal district bankruptcy filings, state and county court records, judgments, tax liens, collections and even overdue child support in some states for the past seven years. If any information has been altered, added or deleted without your knowledge and consent, someone may have accessed your information. Consider contacting the government agency concerned to get full details on what has gone on.

5. Check the inquiries section. This contains a list of creditors who requested a copy of your credit report within the past two years. Credit inquiries are part of standard background checks that lenders do prior to the approval of a credit request. If you notice that there have been requests from companies that you’ve never heard of or you don’t seek to do business with, this could be a cause for concern.

Having mysterious inquiries suggests that there has been someone who’s been trying to apply for loans or credit cards using your name. If you see something like this, consider seeking assistance immediately.

6. Place a fraud alert on your credit report. By doing this, lenders will have to call you to verify your identity before they issue you a new loan or credit card. This gives lenders a hint that they have to completely verify your identity before they take positive action on any requests made under your name. 

7. Consider identity theft protection services. To make sure you’re always on top of your credit status and identity, you can sign up with an identity theft protection service  (such as PrivacyGuard or others). One of the powerful features of this type of service is the daily scanning of your credit reports. Whenever a new account is opened, you’ll be alerted. If the account’s creation is unauthorized, you can request for its quick shutdown before any financial damage is incurred.

All in all, not all lending companies report your credit information to all three credit bureaus. Some report only to one. It’s normal if your credit report slightly differs from one credit bureau to another. Consider devoting some time to reviewing your credit reports. This could save you money, time and trouble in the long run.

How To Detect Identity Theft With Your Credit Report: Part 1

Identity thieves can steal personal information from you in a number of ways. They can pretend to be you and use the illegally obtained information to open new credit card accounts, apply for loans, or order subscription-based services . 

Getting your identity compromised is a frightening situation that can’t always be prevented. Fortunately, there are ways to detect this and stop the domino effect from happening by catching identity theft  in the early stages. This helps keep damages to a minimum.

If you feel that sensitive information relevant to your finances has fallen into the wrong hands, you’ll want to review your credit report  immediately. This document contains data on a wide array of financial activities performed under your name and allows you to spot the actions that were done without your knowledge or permission.

To review your credit report, consider the following steps:

1. Check the identifying information. This part of your credit report contains your name, previous and current addresses, Social Security number, year of birth, home ownership, employment history and income. Consider contacting the credit bureau that sent the credit report immediately to inquire if there is any change in any of this information. Identity thieves may have changed, deleted or added details to get your money or to receive deliveries from things they ordered illegally.   

2. Check the credit information. The information on this portion of your credit report is gathered from different sources such as banks, credit card companies, loan firms, insurance companies and landlords. It contains details on all your past and current accounts such as date opened, loan amount, credit limit, balance, monthly payments and recent payment history. 

3. Review the accounts carefully. If you do not remember opening an account or applying for a loan from a certain company on this particular date, consider contacting the credit reporting agency. If a credit card account was opened without your knowledge and was immediately maxed out without being paid, chances are someone may have used your identity. 

Disputes should be made in writing and sent together with copies of supporting documents as proof that the information in your credit report is incorrect.

Be sure to check out Part 2!

Identity Theft: Where Can You Turn To?

You think it’s never going to happen to you until it does, but identity theft can cause a lot of damage -- not just on your personal finances but to the rest of your life.

While taking steps to prevent identity theft seems like the best way to protect yourself, what happens when you become the victim? Do you know where to turn to?

Here are a few institutions that can help you get your identity back:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
    The FTC is the government agency tasked to protect consumer rights and promote fair business practices. The agency maintains a database of all ID theft cases reported to them that can help authorities gain valuable insight in their investigations. They support victims of identity fraud by providing resources such as documents, forms, and other critical information.

    You can obtain the ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC, which is an all-in-one form you can use to report the identity theft to credit bureaus and other companies. A copy can be downloaded from their official website. You may also fill out the form online and print several copies. Call and report the ID theft incident to the FTC at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
  • Your Local Police Department
    Report the identity theft to your local police department as soon as possible. Consider asking for a copy of the police report to keep for your reference with the ID Theft Affidavit. Help the investigators by gathering all the facts about the case. Sometimes, the key to a case lies in the fine details, so try to recall everything and write down every tidbit you can think of.
  • Credit Bureaus
    Consider calling any one of the 3 major credit bureaus  to report that your identity has been compromised. It may be necessary to call all three to make sure all of them are aware of the situation. They can activate a Fraud Alert that can then take effect on your credit report. This means that lenders would be required to contact you and verify your identity before opening an account. Contact numbers for the 3 bureaus are:

    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

    Experian: 1-888-397-3742

    TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • Lenders’ Fraud Department
    Consider calling all of the credit card companies and various lenders where your identification was used so you can dispute the fraudulent activity in your name. Send them a formal letter of dispute, your identity theft report (ID Theft Affidavit and Police Report), and any other paperwork that supports your claim.
It's no easy task to clear your name, but taking the right steps can help you restore your good credit. Consider learning about identity theft protection services that can help safeguard and restore your identity should you become a victim.