The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General released this Dec. 27, 2007:

Attorney General Tom Corbett today urged consumers to add healthy credit issues to their list of New Year's resolutions. "Many people make New Year's resolutions about healthier lifestyles - everything from losing weight or exercising to quitting smoking or changing other habits," Corbett said. "People should also be concerned about healthy credit, so we are urging consumers to give themselves a 'credit check-up' for the New Year."

Corbett explained that many people only think about credit when considering a major purchase, such as a home or car, which is the worst time to learn about negative credit information. He urged consumers to be pro-active - regularly checking their credit history and financial accounts for signs of potential problems.

"Everyone knows that if you only balance your checkbook once a year, it becomes a complex and time-consuming task." Corbett said. "If you only check your credit history once a year, or only when applying for a major loan, it can take a lot of time and effort to correct any problems."

Corbett said that according to a recent national study by Money magazine, fewer than half of all consumers have ordered their credit report, even though it is available for free.

Additionally, only about 40% of all consumers track their monthly expenses, including credit card bills and bank statements. "This is vital information - and checking your financial statements and credit history regularly is the single most important thing that consumers can do to avoid unwanted credit surprises," Corbett said. "Take the time every month to review your bank and credit card statements, and take regular advantage of your free credit reports."

Corbett said that in many instances, identity thieves will process small charges on stolen accounts, checking to see if the credit card number is valid before going on a major "spending spree."

He urged consumers to check their monthly or online statements carefully and immediately report any unauthorized charges. Information about disputing charges is included with the monthly billing statements. Additionally, Corbett recommended that consumers check their credit reports frequently, explaining that everyone is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus.

Because most information is shared between the credit bureaus, this effectively allows consumers to get three free reports every year. Corbett suggested that consumers should space their free credit reports out over the entire year, getting one report approximately every four months in order to minimizes the time between reports and enhance your chances of catching problems quickly. "Consumers should regularly check their credit history for new accounts that they did not authorize, and immediately report any suspicious activity," Corbett said. "Information about reporting fraudulent accounts is included with your credit report, and consumers can also get details tips and instructions in the 'Identity Theft Toolkit' section of the Attorney General's website, http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/." (Click on the "ID Theft" link under the "Consumers" menu) Corbett also suggested that consumers review their credit history for old accounts that may have been forgotten, and to close accounts that have gone unused for an extended period of time. Contact information for the banks or credit card who issued those accounts is listed on your credit report. When checking your credit history, Corbett suggested that consumers go directly to the website created by the credit bureaus for accessing free annual credit reports: http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ Corbett noted that numerous private companies used television and internet advertisements to offer "free" credit reports, though many of those companies only provide free reports when consumers subscribe to expensive monthly "credit monitoring" or "credit protection" services. Carefully consider the cost and benefits of any of these services before subscribing.

Additionally, Corbett urged consumers to be wary of programs that claim to help make bad consumers information "disappear" or provide you with a new "credit identity." "Consumers should remember that if an offer 'seems too good to be true,' it probably is," Corbett said. "The only information that can legally be removed from your credit history is information that is incorrect or outdated, which consumers can remove without the help of any credit repair service. The passage of time, along with a history of regular payments, is the only thing that will truly 'fix' bad credit." Consumers can file complaints concerning credit issues by calling the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or filing an online consumer complaint with the Attorney General's website, at: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/. Detailed information about credit issues is available in the "Consumers" section of the Attorney General's website.

The FTC says about free credit reports:

Sommers added that consumers can get one free credit report from each agency every year. The Federal Trade Commission Web site states that free credit reports also may be had at www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 877-322-8228, or by mail at: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. “Offers for free credit reports from any other source may be a scam,” the FTC report said. And even the FTC and the Fair Credit Reporting Act could not prevent some companies from turning “free” credit reports into a lucrative, but fraudulent, business. In August 2005, the FTC announced it had filed a lawsuit and simultaneously reached a settlement with two companies that were accused of “deceptive and misleading” claims about free credit reports.

Consumerinfo.com, a subsidiary of the credit bureau Experian, and freecreditreport.com deceived consumers, the FTC Web site reported, by failing to mention they were automatically signing up for credit report monitoring services and would be charged $79.95 if they did not cancel within 30 days. The FTC also charged that freecreditreport.com failed to inform consumers that it was not associated with the official annual free credit report program established through the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Consumers who were drawn to those companies’ Web sites through advertisements were required to supply considerable personal information, in addition to a valid credit card number. When memberships were not cancelled with the services, credit cards were charged. Some consumers were entitled to refunds.

While there are no guarantees against becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, consumers can help protect themselves by taking a few simple precautions: - Never carry your Social Security card or its number unless you really need it, such as for a job interview. - Don’t reveal account numbers if talking on a cell phone when other people can hear you. - Keep an eye on your credit card at all times. Don’t let a clerk or accomplice distract you while it could be swiped through a second scanner that records your information. - Shred any credit card receipts you don’t need, or documents that contain bar codes or sensitive data. - Watch for timely arrival of monthly statements, bills, and any other item that usually arrives in the mail around an expected time. - Mail bills inside the post office if the box outside already is full. - Reconcile checking account statements each month and check for unauthorized transactions. - Report any suspicious inquiries or unauthorized account transactions to your bank immediately. - Never give out a checking account number unless it is a call that the consumer has initiated. - Reveal checking account information only to businesses known to be reputable. - Shred or tear up cancelled checks and deposit slips before discarding them. - Notify your bank if you don’t receive your checks in a reasonable time. - Use dark ink; never use light colors or pencil that can be easily erased or covered. - Don’t leave spaces blank on the payee or amount lines on checks.