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The personal information of tens of millions of T-Mobile customers, including names, dates of birth, social security numbers and driver’s license numbers, was recently stolen, the company confirmed last week.
Data breaches like this are becoming more and more common – so much so that many people ignore them (I know I have) and move on without checking to see if they were affected. And if your information is part of that breach, well, there’s not much you can do to rectify the situation.
But you can and should remain alert to potential fraud. And there’s a relatively easy — and free — way to check for this and other inaccuracies in your financial record: by regularly pulling your credit report.
There are several different versions of this financial document, but you’ll want to get yours from one of the three major US credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
Luckily, checking has never been easier. Typically, under federal law, consumers are allowed to pull each report once a year for free (there are now many sources that can get you a report, although some charge you). But thanks to a Covid-era law, you can currently view your report from each of these offices for free each week until April 20, 2022.
Even if you don’t suspect fraud or think there’s something wrong with your finances, periodically checking your report is a smart move, says consumer credit education manager Margaret Poe at TransUnion.
“It should just be a daily step, one that regular consumers take as part of their overall financial habits,” Poe says, noting that it can show all of your loan and credit balances, payment history at time and overdue, credit utilization rate and Suite. It’s basically a handy snapshot of everything you need.
To check your report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site authorized by federal law to provide a report from the three bureaus. Normally, it is not advisable to check the three reports available on this site at the same time; Spreading them out over the year is a safer option so you don’t have to wait 12 months to see them again. But since you can pull them all weekly for free right now, that’s less of a concern right now.
Review all the information on the report you choose and see if there’s anything suspicious: for example, an open account that you don’t recognize, or reported late or missed payments that you know you made at time.
If there’s something wrong, you’ll want report it directly to the office. Here’s how to do it Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. You will also want to alert the credit company that reported the history. If there is an auto loan with ABC Bank that you have not opened, you can contact ABC Bank directly to try to resolve the problem.
Poe also suggests freezing your credit and placing a fraud alert on your account if you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, which you can do on each office’s website. You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service, which usually comes with a monthly fee, or opt for a credit lock, which is easier to lift than a gel and is offered by each office.
I pulled out my Equifax report while writing this article; In total, the application and troubleshooting process took me about 15 minutes. Certainly not a big lift, and I feel better about my financial security.
Note: You also cannot view your credit score when writing your report. To see this, you can use a service from a bank or credit card issuer.
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