Check Your Free Credit Report Now

When is the last time you checked your credit report? If it has been more than a year, you can get a free one. The issue is, however, is how to really understand it. Here’s some information about obtaining and reading your credit report.

Obtaining Your Free Credit Report

Based on US law, everyone is entitled to look at their credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. If you want to look at more than that, you can pay a fee. This law dates back to 2003, and all three major bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, must allow people to access their credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Keep in mind, you won’t see your credit score through the free reports. You’d have to pay to see your scores.

When you go to this site, you can fill out a form that requires a number of items. You have to supply your name and address, your date of birth, and your Social Security number. Once entering that information, you can submit it, and you will be taken to a new page.

The next page allows you to choose which credit reporting company you want a report from. There are checkboxes next to the name of these companies. You can select all three, only two, or a single credit reporting bureau. There are some cases where you might want to access all three reports at once, but there are also instances where you might only want to access one. This is further explained on the website.

Before you can access your credit report, you have to verify your identity. You should get a page of questions on the screen about a variety of things. It might include credit accounts, loan terms, or even what cars have been purchased by you. The only way to access your report is to answer these questions correctly.

Since this website is integrated with the sites of the credit bureaus, once you gain access, you will see how easy it is to switch from one report to the next. Now, you only get one free report each year, but it is possible to check reports again, if necessary. You just have to pay a fee of about $20 to view them.

Understanding Your Credit Report

Credit reports are not easy to understand. The top of your report contains information such as your name, address, employment information, and addresses. Next, you will see public records, such as collection accounts and judgements.

Next, you will see a list of all credit accounts you have in good standing. Revolving accounts are listed next, and then you will see all requests to view your credit report. Finally, you will see any personal statements that you have placed on your credit report. Generally, this is done if you have been a victim of identity theft.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

A “Credit Profile Number” is a fake SSN, and it Works

Cyber criminals are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the good guys, and there is now another scam out there that you should know about: synthetic identity theft. Basically, the criminals take information from someone, and then make up the rest. They also often use fake Social Security numbers, called CPNs, or “credit profile numbers,” or names.

This type of identity theft shows us that our credit system is more vulnerable than we might think. Basically, it is easy to create a credit file on these identities, and once they have that, they can get a credit card or loan.

Of course, using a CPN like this on an application for credit card or loan is illegal, but lenders currently don’t have a conclusive way of distinguishing a real Social Security number from one of these fake ones. The Social Security Administration generates SSNs randomly. This makes it difficult for a lender to notice a fake one. Technically, a lender can contact the SSA and cross-check, but most of them don’t. Why? Because the SSA requires a handwritten signature from the person who has that SSN, and this is a pain in the neck for lenders.

So, of course, the best thing to do is to create a way for lenders to instantly check to see if a Social Security number is valid or not, and as of now, they do not have the capacity to do this. Lenders do, however, use their own fraud-detection tools, but these requests for credit still fall through the cracks.

This practice also has created more open windows for fraudsters, because they know that the system is vulnerable. It’s true that many lenders won’t accept a credit application from someone with no history of borrowing, which is the case with a CPN, but some still do, and the more activity the file sees, the more likely it is that credit will be given. Once credit is approved, a full credit report is created. Though it likely won’t be a high amount of credit, many lenders take a chance on new borrowers, and at a minimum, extend a couple of hundred dollars. Some people will even get a card that has, say a $300 limit, and use the card for a time. Once they establish a good payment history, they can get a credit increase, and that’s where the fun really begins.

This is just one more scam that you should be aware of, and one more reason to keep your private and personal information safe.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Business Credit Scores 101

Are you a small business? Do you know your business’s credit score? The range is zero to 100 for most credit reporting agencies, with at least 75 being desirable if you want to be approved for financing and trade credit (business loan or line of credit), says a report at NAV.com and from Gerri Detweiler’s new book, Finance Your Own Business.

1SWhat determines credit score of a business?

  • Size of business
  • Payment history
  • Outstanding debts
  • Credit history length
  • Credit utilization ratio
  • Industry risk
  • Public records (which the credit agencies are always inspecting)

The credit score of your business may be different among the different credit reporting bureaus. The nav.com article summarizes the three most common bureaus below.

Dun & Bradstreet PAYDEX (zero to 100)

  • Based on the total number of payment experiences in D & B’s file, this is a dollar weighted indicator of the company’s payment performance.
  • Vendors and suppliers favor the PAYDEX.

Intelliscore PlusSM from Experian (zero to 100)

  • This credit risk score is statistically based and predicts the likelihood of payment delinquency in the subsequent 12 months.
  • This score incorporates multiple factors and is quite reliable.

FICO® LiquidCredit® Small Business Scoring Service (zero to 300)

  • The SBSS rates applicants by their odds of making payment deadlines.
  • The SBSS score is used for credit line and loan applications (up to 350K from the Small Business Administration).
  • 140 is the minimum score to pass the Small Business Administration’s pre-screen process.

Using Business Credit Scores

  • Lenders want to know how well your company pays debts. They won’t want to lend to you if your credit score is low.
  • When is the last time that you reviewed your business’s financial information? This should be done on a recurring basis.
  • Credit scores fluctuate and are not immune to calculation error. Contact the credit agency if you spot an error or it seems that your score is lower than it should be.

Improving the Credit Score

  • Companies can raise their score by avoiding late payments, among other actions. Improving the score won’t happen overnight.
  • Credit utilization should be about 25 percent.
  • Open several credit accounts.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

How to freeze your Child’s Credit

Identity thieves are after children’s Social Security numbers. With this number, a thief can do so many things like open a credit card account and rent an apartment. Kids’ SSNs have great appeal to crooks because:

  • A child’s record is usually very clean.
  • This means fertile opportunities for new credit lines.
  • Kids usually don’t check their credit reports and thus the fraud can go undetected for years.

3DParents should consider putting a freeze on their kids’ credit. Simply getting the credit monitored will not prevent thieves from opening accounts using the child’s SSN. A freeze does literally that: blocks a fraudster from doing anything.

Experian

  • Will not create a file for a child unless required by state law, unless they are victimized.
  • However, will give a free copy of an existing file of a child to the parent and will freeze it upon request.
  • There may be a very small fee unless the parent provides proof that the minor’s identity was stolen.

Equifax

  • Their freeze is free and doesn’t answer to any state requirements.
  • The child need not already be a victim of ID theft to get the freeze.

Trans Union

  • Their site allows parents to check for a credit file of their kids.
  • Freezes are permitted only in states that allow this. Fees may apply.

 

Innovis (another credit reporting agency)

  • Parents can place a freeze no matter what their state says.

Not all the states provide protection for minors’ credit. Find out what your state’s requirements are, as some, for instance, provide only a flag on the Social Security number. Other states have protection going up only to age 16.

Signs that someone is using your child’s SSN:

  • You receive an IRS notice claiming your child didn’t pay income taxes.
  • You get an IRS notice informing you that another tax return used your child’s SSN.
  • You receive collection notices for things you didn’t purchase.

Rejection of government benefits because the benefits are going to another account with your child’s SSN.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

How long does Information stay on Credit Reports?

If you are concerned how long any negative information will remain on your credit report, it takes seven years from the Date of the Last Activity (DLA) before the item is deleted from your records (and seven to 10 years for bankruptcies). This is a very common question posed to credit reporting agencies.

Credit reporting agencies get your information (bad or good) from lenders and collection agencies. The reporting agencies simply compile the information that comes to them.

Consumer Statements

The credit report may contain not-so-appealing information about a dispute that you were involved in that did not see a resolution. For no fee, you can file a statement with the credit reporting agency, summarizing the situation in a brief fashion. At any rate, you can make a request for the dispute information to be removed from your record, and there is no fee or required timeline for this.

Collection Accounts

These stick around for seven years out from the first past-due date for the payment.

Judgments

From the date filed, it’s seven years.

Credit Accounts

These will stay on your record up to a decade from the DLA. If you fail to pay, it will be on your record for seven years from the first past-due date. So you’re looking at seven years for records of delinquent payments.

Inquiries

When entities like businesses get a copy of your credit file, this inquiry report stays on the record for one or two years. Another type of inquiry relates to promotional offers of credit lines; they’re gone in a year. Inquiries do not affect your credit score.

Tax Liens (Paid and Unpaid)

From the date these are paid, it’s seven years. However, unpaid ones are on the record forever.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

Fixing a Credit Report after being hacked

First off, how NOT to fix a hacked credit report: signing on with a service that promises to correct the problem in a jiffy—a “sounds too good to be true” advertisement. A company that claims they will 100% fix your bad credit by removing negative information from your credit report is a bit scammy. In fact, whatever a credit repair company CAN legally do, you yourself can do.

Tips to Know Ahead of Time3D

  • If a company takes action against you, you’re entitled to a free credit report if you request it within 60 days of being notified.
  • Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are required to provide you, free of charge, your credit report every year.
  • It’s free to question anything on your credit report.
  • Credit reporting agencies are required to investigate your disputes, if valid, within 30 days.

Credit Reporting Agency

  • Send the reporting company a document explaining your issues. Include copies of documents for evidence.
  • Your mailed packet (use certified mail) should include an itemized list of your disputes and associated details.
  • The agency will send your material to the entity that provided the information in question. This entity must investigate the issues, then provide feedback to the credit reporting agency, and that includes corrections in your report if it’s deemed that the suspicious information was, in fact, inaccurate.
  • You will then hear back from the reporting agency: an updated report (free) and the results in writing. The agency will send a copy of the revised report, at your request, to anyone in the previous 24 months who had received the erroneous one.

Creditors

  • Inform them in writing of your dispute.
  • Include copies of all evidencing documents.

Repairing errors and getting rid of accurate but negative information are not the same thing. Time heals wounds; you’ll need to let time (usually seven years) completely get rid of the bad stuff.

Should you decide to use a credit repair company, know that it’s against the law for them to lie about their services or charge you before they’ve done their job. By law they must provide a contract explaining your rights and their services, plus many other details including total cost.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailaddress -to 411247. Disclosures.

Do You Really Need Identity Theft Protection?

I see plenty of articles disclaiming any form of identity theft protection and the related expenses. They have titles like, “Identity Theft Protection Doesn’t Work,” or, “Poor Man’s Guide to Identity Theft Protection.” Most of these articles have some degree of merit, but they usually miss the point.

The fact is, you can’t protect yourself from all forms of identity theft, and the types that you can guard against require a Rain Man-like focus. One way or another, it’s going to cost you time or money or both.

Identity theft protection detractors say, “Why pay a monthly fee when all you have to do is…”

Securely dispose of mail. The standard advice is to thoroughly shred preapproved credit card offers and anything that includes any account information. While this is good advice and should be heeded, it’s not going to protect you when your bank or mortgage company or utility provider tosses your information in a dumpster that is subsequently raided by identity thieves.

Opt out of junk mail and preapproved credit card offers. This is good advice and can be done at OptOutPrescreen.com. However, even if you opt out of new offers, others will still arrive. It’s inevitable. You also need to get a locking mailbox, but that still won’t fully protect you.

Get a P.O. box. This won’t protect you at all. Anyone who recommends this tactic doesn’t understand how identity theft occurs.

Check your credit for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is an excellent way to stay on top of your credit reports and keep tabs on what accounts may be open under your name. However, it’s only good for one credit report per bureau per year. You should really check your credit report monthly, and that isn’t cheap.

Set fraud alerts. Fraud alerts are a great layer of protection, but they expire every 90 days, and most people don’t bother to renew. Plus, fraud alerts only serve as a guideline for creditors, who are not required to contact you before issuing credit.

Get a credit freeze. This is a great way to help prevent new account fraud. I recommend this. But by itself, a credit freeze is not enough.

These are all layers of prevention that will help, but by themselves or even in combination, they cannot provide the same degree of protection offered by a reputable, full-service, paid product.

To ensure peace of mind and protect your most valuable asset, your identity—subscribe to an identity protection service, such as McAfee Identity Protection, which offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, please visit http://www.counteridentitytheft.com

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss an identity theft “pandemic” on CNBC. (Disclosures)