As identity theft becomes more prevalent, the need to regularly check your credit report is very easy to see and understand. Two big headlines in the news recently point to how closely tied your credit report and identity theft are.
First, we hear of the troubles of Choice Point, a company involved in the storage and distribution of credit information. It appears some criminals set up a fake company and used it to obtain sensitive credit information. Then in turn they used it to steal the identities of about 750 people. That number will probably grow, since more than 500,000 people across the country have been put at risk.
Second, comes the story about missing computer tapes containing credit card records of more than 1.2 million of Bank of America cardholders. Most of the accounts belonged to federal government employees. This has placed the account holders in danger of increased risk of identity theft.
Both of these companies are now in the process of notifying the people of their exposure. The truly bad part of all the problems is these leaks and losses occurred months ago. These two companies were not very quick in notifying the people affected. Way too much damage could have been done before they had been alerted to the trouble.
While the headlines may change, the need to check your credit report does not. You may be very careful. You may shred your documents, the credit card and other financial solicitations you receive in the mail. You may take great care how and where you give out your financial information. Unfortunately as these stories show, it may not be enough.
Identity theft affects about 10 million victims per year. It has been estimated to cost consumers and businesses more than 50 billion dollars a year. It is easily among the fastest growing categories of white collar crime. You need to do all you can to fight theft of your identity.
A new law has been put on the books by the Congress to help combat the losses. It allows the you, the consumer to request a free credit report from the credit agencies once a year. You should not hesitate to take advantage of it. However, the law has a rollout feature which does not allow full access for all Americans until September 1 of this (2005) year.
While this is a step in the right direction, in typical fashion the government continues to leave the populace exposed. You should access your credit report much more often than once a year. If an identity theft takes place just after receiving the free credit reports, an enormous amount of damage can be done before you can review your next free report.
The Federal Trade Commission has put together a list of questions and answers concerning this new law and the effect it will have on your credit report and your risk of identity theft. They can be helpful to you in determining your rights under the law
It makes sense to check your reports regularly, as often as, on a monthly basis. This may seem a bit much to you, but just ask a person who has had their identity stolen how much hassle it is to take your life back. They will tell you it is well worth the effort. Let’s face it, no one cares as much as you, about your credit record, and the damage that identity theft could cause in your life.
(c)2005 David Wilding
David Wilding has for the past ten years worked with groups and individuals to rid their lives of debt. Visit his website for more ideas, tools, and strategies to get rid of your debt.