Fun With Your Credit Report
Last week I finally decided to take my own advice and go order my free annual credit reports from each of the three national credit bureaus. Staying on top of the information in your credit report is among the most effective ways to detect if someone is trying to hijack your identity.
So I visited AnnualCreditReport.com, which offers you the choice to view all three reports at once or stagger them over a 12-month period. I opted to get them all in one lump, as I wanted to compare the reports for differences and inaccuracies.
Now, I'm sure my experience was trivial compared to what an identity theft victim might experience after reviewing their ravaged credit report for the first time. There was no evidence of rogue credit accounts set up in my name or unknown aliases registered to my Social Security number. But there were quite a few glaring errors in two of my reports, wrong enough to raise at least the suspicion that something wasn't quite right.
Experian was the first credit bureau I queried, and after filling in a short form with my address, Social Security number and date of birth, I was asked a series of four multiple-choice questions about my mortgage payments, monthly bills and a few other financial details that supposedly only I (and a few thousand other companies the bureau shares my information with) would know.
The report listed no fewer than six different spellings of my last name and a wildly incorrect birthdate. But what really scared me was the previous address it had listed for me -- an apartment in Staten Island, N.Y. I tried to correct the items online, but the site said I had to take care of that over the phone or by mail.
After calling the toll-free number and waiting on hold for about 20 minutes, a nice lady answered and immediately knew who I was by the case number I had been given from the Web site. Within 60 seconds she had corrected the old address (she could offer no explanation for the error). Within 45 days, she said, I'd get an e-mail confirming the changes
Moving on to Trans Union, I progressed through roughly the same steps, only to find that after refusing the "option" of entering my e-mail address so they could keep me informed about their new services, blah, blah, I was turned down. I thought maybe this was just a site error, so I tried again later, but received the same results.
Once again, be careful when visiting the free credit-report Web site. Misspell the URL and you could wind up at one of 130-odd sites that the Federal Trade Commission found may be trying to mislead consumers into paying for their credit reports or buying expensive credit-monitoring services.
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