Tuesday

Protect Your Credit

Preventing identity theft also means protecting your credit reputation and credit record. To do that you may want to stop getting pre-approved credit card applications that can be stolen from your mailbox, make sure you credit report is accurate and no strange accounts show up on it, and maybe even freeze your credit file. Here's why and how for each of them.

Protecting Your Mail

Millions of pre-approved credit card applications are mailed out each year to consumers and many of them end up in the trash can. Don't just throw it away, where a "dumpster diving" thief can find it, fill it out and change the address and get credit in your name, run up the bill and stick you with a black mark on your credit record. Tear up that application first. And when mailing important documents or payment checks out in the mail, don't put them in your mailbox out front. That red flag is a signal to everyone that you've got mail they can get just by driving by. Drop those envelopes off at the post office. Better yet, if you want to stop getting those pre-approved credit card applications in the mail, just call 1.888.5.OPT.OUT. You can also stop most junk mail too by sending a letter with your first and last name, home address, and signature to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Assn, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

You can get one free credit report on yourself each year from each of the three national credit bureaus and you should. Check to see if any strange credit inquiries show up, if any new accounts have been opened up that you don't know about, or if anything is inaccurate and just a plain mistake that needs fixing. To get your free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call them at 1.877.322.8228. The smart move is to get a free one from a different credit bureau once each 4 months. The info is a little different in each report, but a regular check of your report can keep you on top of things.

Freeze Your Credit Record

There's an even easier way to stop anyone from getting new credit in your name. Just freeze your credit file. It's sometimes called a "security" freeze and doing it makes it illegal for the credit bureau to release any information about you to new creditors without your express approval. That can make it very tough for an identity thief to use your personal identifying information to open up a new account or get a new credit card because stores and other credit card companies can't get a copy of your credit report from the only 3 credit reporting agencies who have it. Freezing your credit costs just $10 per credit bureau but is free for identity theft victims. To find out what the State Credit Freeze Law is in your state, click here.

You can contact the credit bureaus here:

Equifax
[security freeze request]
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348

Experian
[security freeze request]
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

Innovis
[security freeze request]
PO Box 725
Columbus, OH 43216

TransUnion
[security freeze request]
PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

And to find out more about your credit rights, check out Ohio Fair Credit, the web site that explains your rights and how to protect them.