Identity theft happens to people everyday. The process of getting one’s identity back can be long, tiresome, and costly. For me, it was nerve-racking. In my case, my debit card was compromised. To this day, I still don’t know how they got my debit card number, but they did.
I just remember logging into my bank online and noticing $300 was missing. A little research showed there were a few unauthorized withdrawals. The bank was very helpful – they gave me a new debit card and submitted a report to their fraud department. From there though, I had to wait for the outcome, which could take upwards of three months.
Credit versus Debit
If you are unaware, when your credit card gets compromised and you notify the credit card company, they place those charges on hold and you are not responsible for paying those charges until the outcome of the investigation. During this waiting period, those transactions don’t accrue interest either.
With a debit card, it’s a different story. The money is gone from your checking account and it doesn’t get refunded until the investigation is complete and only if the bank determines fraud occurred. In my situation, my $300 was gone. Three months later, the bank confirmed it was fraud and they credited me back the $300. While I am glad I received my money back, it was still tough getting through those three months with $300 less in my account.
Protecting Yourself With a Free Credit Report
An easy way to keep an eye on your credit is to review your credit report annually. Reviewing your report annually will allow you to notice:
- Any unrecognized or unauthorized mailing addresses
- See new credit accounts that were opened
- See who has looked at your credit report
- Find any errors listed on the report
- See any collections or bankruptcies on your report
As I hope many you are aware of, you can get your credit report for free, each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. All 3 bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax - take part in this service and the report is free once per year. But, with a little ingenuity you can get your free report 3 times per year.
When most go to AnnualCreditReport.com, they select to receive their credit reports from all three credit bureaus at once. However, you are not required to select all three at once. You can choose to receive one, two or all three at a time. To get you free report time times per year, simply select one bureau the first time, then come back in four months and select the next bureau the second time, and the last bureau in another four months. Here is an example broken down:
- January – elect to receive TransUnion credit report
- May – elect to receive Equifax credit report
- September – elect to receive Experian credit report
Doing it this way allows you to check your report more than once per year. Understand that I feel that reviewing your credit report once per year is plenty. But after my debit card was compromised, I was worried that someone out there had my information and I elected to use this trick. Either way, all that matters is that you take advantage of your free report and look at yours every year. Doing so allows you catch errors and/or suspicious activity early on, which makes it 100 times easier to get resolved and limits the difficulty in repairing your credit.
Free Credit Score
Realize that you are only getting your credit report for free, not your credit score. For 99% of people getting your credit report for free is all you need. The only times you need to review your credit score is before you make a large purchase that you plan on taking a loan out on, such as a home or car. Reviewing your credit score allows you to know if you qualify for the best interest rates. There are some lenders out there that will claim you have a lower score than you actually do so they can charge you a higher interest rate. While this is more the exception than the rule, it still happens.
There are a few options for getting your credit score for free. Many of them unfortunately are frauds. I say this because they will give you your score for free (which is what they advertise) but they also enroll you in a credit monitoring service at the same time which charges you a monthly fee (which they don’t advertise). Recently the government cracked down on this and these companies now mention you will be charged for the credit monitoring. If you have to provide your credit card, you are getting charged at some point.
Truly Free Credit Score
What I use to get my free credit score and recommend is Credit Sesame. It’s a great site that allows you to review your credit score for free. They offer it for free because they offer sponsored loan offers. This doesn’t bother me though, as I just want to see my score.
The only caveat to Credit Sesame is that they use the Experian National Equivalency Score as your credit score while the three major credit bureaus use FICO Score for your credit score. While there are some differences between the two, your score will be similar. I’ve seen and heard of variances of up to 20 points. But you won’t get a credit score of 800 from Credit Sesame while your FICO Score is 700.
Using AnnualCreditReport to get your free credit report annually is a no-brainer. It is up to you if you would like to elect to receive it three times a year. If you want a truly free credit score, then Credit Sesame is definitely the way to go for that.