Javelin Strategies reported that of the 11.1 million consumers experiencing identity theft fraud in 2009, it took an average of 21 hours to resolve them. Part of the reason it takes so long has to do with when people discover the theft in the first place. If you discover someone has stolen your identity because a debt collector is calling, you have many sleepless nights ahead of you. This underscores the importance of checking your credit report every single year. Like an annual physical, checking your credit report will serve as an early detection alarm if you have been the victim of identity theft.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that credit reporting agencies give you a copy of your credit report every twelve months. AnnualCreditReport.com is a website setup by the government to make it easier for you to get your report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
I like to stagger my requests every four months. Since the report is a “snapshot” of my credit report at the time I request it and because information is shared between the three bureaus (most of the time), requesting one every four months gives me a more “up to date” look at my credit report. I request one in January, one in May, and then one in September (then again starting in January).
Review Reports Carefully
It’s absolutely crucial that you review your reports very carefully for any discrepancies or inaccuracies, no matter how minor they seem. You should review all of your accounts, comparing account numbers, and make sure every one of your accounts is listed. More importantly, make sure that you own all of the accounts. The appearance of a strange account, even if it’s being paid off in full each month and could be helping your credit score, should be disputed and removed. The dispute process will notify the account servicer, let’s say Citi, that account number XXXXXX isn’t owned by the person they think opened it (remember, your credit was pulled whenever that account was opened, so they think it’s you!). By disputing it, they are forced to prove it’s yours.
When you review your personal information (name, former addresses, social security number, etc), it’s important to dispute anything that is wrong. This is where you might discover a thief has opened a new telephone or utility service in your name, because a strange address will be added onto your list of former addresses.
It seems like a hassle to review your reports and dispute any inaccuracies or errors but it’s very easy after the first time. Plus, you may discover the beginning of what could become a very expensive and time consuming case of identity theft. Early detection is crucial in saving you both time and money in the fight against identity theft.