Identity theft continues to be a huge concern in our society, and with the increase in the number of cases of stolen financial data, many consumers are looking for ways to protect their personal information and credit. The best way to safeguard your private information and avoid scams is to review your credit report regularly and look for errors or any unauthorized or suspicious activity.
There are a number of companies that have created services to help people monitor their credit information. These companies also offer various products to help defend against criminal activity and recover financially if an individual's credit is damaged.
But, how do you make sure the service is worth the subscription price? Can you do it yourself more easily, effectively and economically?
The answer depends on your individual circumstances and needs. There are some important considerations that can help you make a smart choice. Most credit monitoring services describe their programs as "privacy protection" or "anti-ID-theft" services. But be aware that monitoring your credit report does not prevent identity theft; it simply provides a potential early warning.
Actual services provided for the subscription price vary widely among different companies. In general, they promise to check your report regularly for suspicious activity and alert you if anything unusual is found.
They also provide you with copies of your credit report and credit score (though not necessarily your FICO credit score) at stated intervals. Some offer "fraud resolution" services and "fraud insurance," though just what those include and how effective they are varies widely.
You may be able to view your report online anytime, but the services typically update the information only at stated intervals, which usually range from daily to quarterly. The more frequent the monitoring, the better.
Both the credit industry and consumer experts in privacy and personal finance agree that individuals need to monitor their credit reports regularly. But do credit monitoring services help you monitor your credit report more conveniently or effectively? Many consumer groups feel that monitoring services generally charge a high price for something most consumers can do for themselves for free or for considerably less than the relatively high subscription costs.
Nearly everyone agrees that the services may be most useful for consumers who have experienced ID theft or who are at high risk for it. Each consumer must do his or her homework and make appropriate choices for individual circumstances. Federal law requires each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union) to provide one free credit report annually to each individual upon request. Some state laws also provide consumers access to more than one free credit report annually.
The official website for ordering your free reports online is www.annualcreditreport.com. Please note that this is the only official free website. Making sure you go to the right website will help you avoid unofficial sites, interested mostly in selling you something, and imposter sites that steal your personal information. If you would prefer to order your free reports by phone rather than online, thus avoiding the danger of encountering an imposter site, you can call, toll-free, 1-877-322-8228. You may also order by mail using an order form from the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.