Consumer corner with Anita Wilson: No time like the present to check your own credit reports

  • This July 21, 2012, file photo shows signage at the corporate headquarters of Equifax Inc. in Atlanta. AP

Published: 7/20/2022 3:40:02 PM
Modified: 7/20/2022 3:39:38 PM

When was the last time you checked your credit reports? If you can’t remember or have never done so, it’s definitely time to check them.

The information on your credit report, whether it’s good or not so good, is used to calculate your credit score which can determine whether you qualify for a loan or credit card as well the interest rate you will be charged when you borrow money.

Some employers and landlords may ask permission to check your credit reports, as well, so it is important that the information on the reports is accurate. While it may take some time to improve your credit score, you should act immediately (we’ll explain how later in this column) if your report contains errors because incorrect information on your credit report can be a sign of identity theft.

In addition, if you see accounts on your credit report that you did not open, you could be the victim of identity theft. If someone fraudulently uses your name and other personal information to open an account and then doesn’t pay the bills, it may appear on your credit report and negatively impact your ability to get credit.

To request your free credit reports from the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — either reach out to them directly, visit annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228. Due to COVID-19, you can check your credit reports as often as you’d like through Dec. 31, 2022. After that point, you are entitled to one free credit report from each company each year. Ordering your own credit reports will have no effect on your credit score.

Once you receive your credit reports, you’ll want to go over them carefully. First, check the information at the top of the report. Verify that your name, address, Social Security number, and other identifying information is correct. If there are mistakes, they should be reported to the credit reporting agency.

Next, verify that each account listed on the report belongs to you. It may be helpful to have your bank and credit card statements in front of you to confirm account numbers and the date the account was opened. You should be able to see the credit limit and payment history. If any payment information is incorrect, you have the right to dispute it with the creditor (the business claiming you owe them money).

If there is a credit card account or loan that does not belong to you, contact the bank immediately to report it. It could be an error or it could be a sign of identity theft.

The credit report will also contain information about who has checked it. If you see inquiries from banks or credit card companies that you haven’t initiated, that could be another sign of identity theft. You will want to contact the bank or credit card company to report it and ask that the information be removed.

Consumers may dispute any information that they believe is inaccurate by notifying both the credit bureau and the business that reported it. The credit bureau has 30 days to investigate the dispute and must notify you of the result in writing.

If you are concerned that you may be a victim of identity theft or could potentially become one, you have the option of placing a credit freeze or a security freeze on your credit report with each of the three credit reporting bureaus. This prevents anyone from seeing your credit report without your consent.

Most creditors require a credit check so it may stop someone who has obtained your personal information from fraudulently opening a credit in your name. You would have to lift the freeze temporarily in order to apply for new credit, but the freeze can be reinstated immediately after the lender has checked your credit

Parents may also want to check if there is a credit report in the child’s name. Generally, a child under 18 won’t have a credit report unless someone is using their personal information to commit fraud. If there is inaccurate or fraudulent information, report it to the three credit reporting bureaus and the lender or creditor listed on the report so that it can be corrected before they need to apply for a loan, a job, or an apartment.

More information about credit reports and placing a credit freeze can be found on our website, NorthwesternDA.org or by calling our Greenfield office at 413-774-3186 or Northampton office at 413-586-9225.

Anita Wilson is the director of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office Consumer Protection Unit, which is a Local Consumer Program working in cooperation with the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General. She writes a monthly consumer column for the Gazette.
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