As we continue to hear about the theft of personal information of local shoppers that occurred when the computer system of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and A.J. Wright were compromised, I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping an eye on your credit history and knowing your own credit report. By keeping tabs on what your credit is, you will know if someone has taken your identity and charged up your credit.
Ruined credit and identity theft are serious issues that take a lot of effort and time on the part of the victim to correct. If a person’s credit is ruined by a stolen credit card and the victim is unaware, it is quite a shock to lose job opportunities and be refused loans when you think you have good credit. This is why it is extremely important to check your credit report on a regular basis.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was amended a few years ago to allow everyone to receive one free credit report from each reporting agency (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) every 12 months. A person can order all three credit reports at the same time, which would allow the person to compare them, or order one now and others later in the year, which helps them monitor developments over the course of a year. To order, click on www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free (877) 322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. This form can be obtained from the official website, www.annualcreditreport.com, or from my office at 455-2181 (Albany), 843-2188 (Amsterdam), 762-3733 (Johnstown) or toll-free at (800) 224-5201. (Note - Consumers must request their free report using the three options mentioned above; do not contact the three agencies individually with your request or you may be charged.)
If you find errors on the report, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you need to contact the credit bureau you received your report from. "The credit bureau and the organization that provided the information are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information on your report," according to the FTC. If the error appears to be the result of fraud, you should also contact the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338) and file a police report.
Under a recent New York State law, you can place a "freeze" on your consumer credit report to prevent an identity thief from opening a credit card account, getting a loan or ruining your credit history. According to the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB), the Security Freeze works by preventing most lenders from gaining access to your credit report for review prior to granting a new line of credit. To learn the pros and cons of a Security Freeze, you can contact my office and I will send you brochures on this topic.
Be wary of companies advertising they can "fix" credit reports. If you have bad credit by your own doing, you cannot "fix" it.