Archive for the ‘Credit report’ Category

Papers around the country have been carrying an Associated Press story about a “new” ID theft threat. Apparently, they just discovered what we’ve been talking about since 2005 or so – that minors are every bit as much at risk of identity theft as the rest of us. You can read a copy of their article here. It’s not as new as they make it out to be but it’s a good article. They do a good job explaining how some of the scams work.

ID thieves like to find SSNs for minors because they know it’s a clean number with no adverse information. They can open accounts in the child’s name and exploit them for years – maybe until the child starts applying for financial aid for college.

Check your own credit report regularly. You are eligible for a free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through I recommend looking at one of the three every four months – you get an 80% view but three times as often.

At the same time, check your kids’ credit reports. You can’t use the same online site, though. You’ll have to send a physical letter to the credit reporting agency. Be sure to include your child’s complete name, address, date of birth, a copy of the child’s birth certificate and social security card. You’ll also have to send a copy of your driver’s license and a current utility bill containing your current address. If everything is clear, you’ll get a letter back that they can’t find a record for that ID.

3.3 million identities stolen – this time from the Educational Credit Management Corp, the folks who guarantee many federal student loans. Names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal data on borrowers were taken. It’s not as big as the 45 million credit and debit card numbers stolen from TJ Maxx but it’s arguably more sensitive information.

According to ECMC, the stolen information was on a portable media device. In the words of their spokesman Paul Kelash, “It was simple, old-fashioned theft. It was not a hacker incident.” More proof that the simple threats are still the most serious. The company does use key-card control of their physical facility but has not yet released how the theft was accomplished. It’s rarely hard to tailgate into a building then walk out with a thumbdrive.

Notices have not gone out yet so we don’t know if it’s just current loan holders or if the breach included information on closed accounts as well. ECMC is the designated guarantor for loans in Oregon, Virginia and Connecticut which I interpret to mean that you may be at risk if you got your loans through schools in those states. But the way those documents get shared around, any of us with loans could be at risk.

If you haven’t checked your credit report lately, this is a good excuse to do so. You are eligible for a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. Be sure to go to the official site (not the deceptive site with the goofy adds and “free” in the domain name). And remember that you can check just one of the three credit reports, saving the other two for 4 and 8 months later respectively.

It’s not polite to take joy in the troubles of others but I can’t help gloating a little bit today. Lifelock agreed to pay $12 million to its customers to settle a suit with the Federal Trade Commission and 35 states for making “exaggerated claims about its identity theft services”.

If you remember, Lifelock’s CEO posted his real Social Security Number on billboards and buses around the country His identity was subsequently stolen but that didn’t stop the company from continuing to advertise that its services would “prevent identity theft”. The company promised far more than any company could ever really deliver. Especially since the primary ‘defense’ that they put in place for their customers was a credit alert, something which any consumer can arrange him/herself for free. Those month charges added up to a lot of money for a couple of stamps and a note on your calendar.

In the settlement, the company admitted no wrongdoing but they’ve said that they have “changed their business model”.

If you haven’t checked your credit report lately, you should. Remember that you’re entitled to a free copy every 12 months (and go to the legitimate site, not the scam site with “free” in the domain name). If you think you’re at special risk of ID theft, consider implementing a credit alert or even a credit freeze. Don’t forget to check the credit reports of at-risk family members (children and dependent elders) while you’re there.

Last time, we talked about resolving to make stronger passwords in the new year. This might also be a good time to resolve to check your credit report more regularly.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report (though not your credit score) every 12 months. Follow the instructions at to request your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. (Stay away from the scam site that runs the goofy adds and has “free” in the domain name. They are anything but free.)

When reviewing the credit reports, look for:

  • adverse actions on your accounts that might indicate that you have been a victim of identity theft
  • accounts that have been opened in your name without your knowledge. Even if the identity thief is making the payments regularly, the account could still be in use for illegal activities.

If you find a discrepancy, follow the specific instructions on the website to dispute any incorrect information.

Some other suggestions:

  • Don’t forget to check the credit reports of your immediate family members, especially minor children and dependent elders. Both of those groups are at elevated risk of identity theft.
  • Remember that you are also eligible for a report every 12 months from any of the specialty agencies which have information about you.
  • If you want more frequent feedback on your credit history, consider asking for your free copy from only one of the major credit reporting agencies at a time. Space the requests for the other two agencies out every four months. For example, you could ask for your free copy from Experian in March, your free copy from TransUnion in July and your free copy from Equifax in November. Once you start, you will have to keep the same rotating pattern. Schedule the requests on your calendar.

Note: Several people have asked my opinion of credit monitoring services. I do not consider them worth the money if you are taking the regular precaution of checking bank and credit card statements and are reviewing your credit report at least annually. They might be useful if you are a recent victim of identity theft or are in some other high-risk category but they’re overkill for most of us.

A co-worker recently asked me if I’d heard of and if it was legit. I went in very sceptical and came away very impressed.

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months but the credit reporting agencies charge extra for the actual credit score (the number between 300 and 850 or so). The report is useful for finding and cleaning up identity theft but not much use when you’re planning to buy a car or a house. Lots of scam sites offer your credit score but you have to sign up for expensive and usually unnecessary monthly fees to see it.

CreditKarma actually lives up to their promise. They will get your actual credit score and show it to you for free. They make their money through advertising. As long as you’re willing to wade through the ads…

Better, they have a “Report Card” to show you how your score and its different components stack up to the rest of the population. (I did okay on most components but was surprised to learn that my score was hurt by not having enough accounts with different lenders. Consolidation makes keepng track of the family finances easier but apparently there are costs to that decision.)

CreditKarma also has a simulator that can give you an idea how certain actions will change your credit score. For example, if you pay off a credit card balance, you can see how much your score would likely increase. (The simulator was a little glitchy the day I tried it but it’s a great idea.)

You will have to give them some identifying information (including your SSN) but their privacy policy looked strong and their CEO has made public commitments about their approach to privacy.

A couple of quick caveats. First, this site will not necessarily give you the exact FICO score that’s used by your bank. Each credit reportig agency uses a slightly different algorithm (and your score can vary a little from day to day dependng on your financial activities). CreditKarma’s score is based on TransUnion data and will still give you a good sense of your credit standing even if it’s not exactly the same number your bank uses. Second, some of the ads look a lot like the informational parts of the webpages. Be especially careful to read the fine print if you follow any of their links. It’s not hard to slip from their site to one of their advertisers’ without noticing it.

Overall, I was very impressed with the ease of using the site and with the usefulness of their information. Everything was well explained and clearly laid out. I plan to continue using the site to supplement my regular reviews of my credit report.