Protect your identity for free

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Credit card companies, banks, and credit reporting agencies offer free services that help customers detect, prevent, and recover from identity theft.

Nowadays identity thieves are more active than ever. According to the FTC report the fast growing category of identity theft is government documents and benefits fraud. Then come credit card fraud, phone and utilities fraud, and bank fraud. These are the most common categories of ID theft.

In attempts to protect themselves from rising identity theft, customers are considering services that promise to defend them for a certain amount of money, of course. But most of such services appear to be a scam. And many experts consider such services not-worthy and do not recommend invest money in them. Instead they offer to protect identity without spending any money. Here are a couple of fee-free ways to protect your identity.

1. Get your credit report straight from the source

Each credit reporting agency is required to provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. Such big agencies as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion created a united portal called annualcreditreport.com, which lets you inquire a free credit report online, via toll-free phone number (1-877-322-8228), or by mail.

You can monitor your credit report three times a year by requesting a report from one of the agencies every three months. This is more than enough, unless you are planning to apply for a new credit card or have recently applied.

The free credit report does not include your FICO score, only your complete report.

When you find errors in your credit report, contact the credit reporting agency. Write them a letter and include the copies to support your claims and confirm that the information is inaccurate.

The agency must investigate the claims and correct the report if there are inaccuracies. The amended credit report should be sent to you and it won’t count as your free yearly report.

2. Put activity and fraud alerts

As your credit report is accurate, contact the bank or credit card issuer to request alerts when purchases over a certain amount are charged to your account. Most banks will contact you automatically if they detect unusual activity on your account, though.

If you think you’ve been a victim of an identity theft or attempt, file a fraud alert with one of the three agencies. One agency will be enough, because the company is required by law to contact the other two agencies.

Or you can go further and freeze your account. The account freeze will stop possible subsequent attempts to steal your identity, if you are a victim of identity theft. But freezing account is not free, as it governed by state law.

As fraud alert as freezing account, both of it apply only to new accounts, your current credit accounts won’t be affected.

3. See if you have an insurance coverage

Check with your insurance carrier if your existing insurance policies cover the losses due to identity theft. For instance, umbrella insurance policies almost always include protection against expenses or losses resulting from identity theft.

Your bank may want to charge you an additional fee for its identity theft protection, but your accounts are already protected by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The act caps losses if they are reported timely.

These steps above will help you protect your identity and save money. However, they do require a certain portion of time and effort from your side.

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