Identity theft happens to people every day. 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.
Luckily I logged into my bank account online and noticed the charges. Without doing this, the only way I would have known is eventually finding issues on my credit report.
While it used to be more of a hassle to get your credit report, you can now get your credit report for free. And with the trick I use, you can get your free credit report 3 times a year!
My Identity Theft Story
I remember logging into my bank online and noticing $300 was missing. A little research showed there were a few unauthorized withdrawals totaling $300. The bank was very helpful with the process. They gave me a new debit card and submitted a report of the suspicious activity to their fraud department.
From there though, I had to wait for their investigation to complete before I would see my missing $300 again. Sadly, this investigation took upwards of three months. Living on a tight budget, this caused me even more stress until I got my money back.
This is all because credit cards and debit cards work differently when it comes to fraud. With a credit card, the scammer simply makes charges to your account. When you get your bill in the mail, you see the suspicious charges, alert the credit card company, and they do their investigation.
During this time, you are not responsible for paying the charges and they do not accrue interest.
But with a debit card, when the scammer makes a charge, the money comes right out of your bank account. As a result, you are out the money until the bank can prove that fraud did occur.
While neither scenario is enjoyable, there are things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft. I go into great detail of specific strategies and what to do if you are a victim in my ID theft post.
But the simplest thing you can do to protect yourself is to review your credit report.
Protecting Yourself With A Free Credit Report
The easiest 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
You can get your free credit report each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the best free credit report site since it was set up by the government. This means you can be assured that there will never be any costs or charges associated with getting your credit check.
All 3 credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, take part in this service and the report is free once per year.
While it is great to review your credit annually, the truth is that a lot of damage can be done in between that year you check your report.
You could pay for your credit report a few times during the year to keep an eye on things, but I have another solution that is 100% free. 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 3 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:
- Free TransUnion credit report: January
- Free Equifax credit report: May
- Free Experian credit report: September
Doing it this way allows you to check your report more than once per year. This will ensure that you catch any potential red flags early enough to limit the damage. Of course, for most people, just getting and checking your credit reports once per year is fine.
But if you want to be extra cautious, and I don’t blame you for this, getting a free credit check every four months is a great solution.
Getting Your Free Credit Score
Realize that when you are getting your credit report for free, you are not getting 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.
What are your options for getting your credit score for free? 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 but they also enroll you in a credit monitoring service at the same time which charges you a monthly fee.
Recently the government cracked down on this and these companies now have to mention you will be charged for the credit monitoring. Always remember, if you have to provide your credit card, you are getting charged at some point.
A 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 offers.
This means that you will see advertisements for financial products and services. This doesn’t bother me though, as I just want to see my score so I ignore the ads.
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.
Getting your free credit report is a critical first step to keeping tabs on your credit and making sure your identity isn’t being used for something illegal. While many people are fine getting their free credit report once per year, you can do things differently and get your free report 3 times a year.
Doing this will ensure you catch any potential issues early. This is key when trying to fight identity theft. The sooner you catch it, the easier and less headaches it will cause to fix.
So use this trick to your advantage and be sure to use Credit Sesame for your truly free credit score too!