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
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.