Credit reports provide a central repository of your financial health, so that when you request a loan, a bank can see what other loans you already have and can make sure you can afford a new loan. These reports are used legitimately by banks (to approve loans), potential employers (as part of background checks), or lawyers (for due diligence checks).
Clearly, there can be important consequences when errors appear in these databases. For this reason, you should check the most important ones (see below) regularly – annually for example – and tenaciously correct any errors you find. Periodically checking your information in these files is also a good way to detect any strange activity that suggests you may have been a victim of identity theft in the recent past.
In many jurisdictions, you are entitled to access your credit report (sometimes for free or for a nominal fee) and to correct any errors you find. This sounds easy. The requesting part of the process usually is straightforward, but correcting erroneous information can be an uphill struggle at times. So be prepared to be persistent.
Each reporting agency has its own policies regarding how you access and correct the information they have on file about you. Follow their directions meticulously; otherwise, they may use the slightest excuse not to comply with your requests.
Checking Your Credit Report with Rating Agencies
There are three main credit reporting or rating agencies. You should request and check the information held by all three because the information on file may differ between them. You can start checking your record by visiting their websites:
Checking Other Sources (US Only)
Although not among the ‘big three’ credit reporting agencies above, you may also want to check what Innovis and PRBC/Microbilt have on file about you as they too keep credit reports. If you find an error in their reports, both websites contain information and contact details about how to correct errors.
- To access your credit report from Innovis, go to https://www.innovis.com/personal/creditReport (or go to www.innovis.com > Personal Services > Order Your Innovis Credit Report)
- For Microbilt, go to http://www.microbilt.com/consumer-dispute.aspx (or go to http://www.microbilt.com/ and type “disputes” in the Search box)
- The MIB Group also maintains consumer files, but related to health- and medical-insurance information. At the time of publishing, to request your consumer file for free from MIB go straight to http://www.mib.com/html/request_your_record.html (or go to www.mib.com > Consumers > Request Your MIB Consumer File)
Another large source of database information is Lexis-Nexis which caters to attorneys and related industries. Lexis-Nexis does permit you to opt-out from their database (your ability to opt-out may vary). For information about this, visit http://www.lexisnexis.com/privacy/for-consumers/opt-out-of-lexisnexis.aspx (should this address change type “lexis nexis opt-out” in your favorite search engine).
Entire books have been written on the subject of identity theft alone so we won’t pretend that this chapter covered everything. However, it has provided enough information and self-help techniques to give you a great start.
If you want to learn more, excellent sources of information about identity theft include the US government’s central website, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ and the UK’s Internet crime reporting center at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud_protection/identity_fraud.
The US Federal Trade Commission also maintains information about how you can obtain your credit report for free from each credit reporting agency once per year. See http://www.ftc.gov/freereports and http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm.
For similar information in the UK, again consult the information at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud_protection/identity_fraud.
- What is Phishing and Spoofing; How to Protect Yourself
- Be Aware of WiFi Security when using Wireless Internet Hotspots
- How to Shop Safely Online
- Protecting Yourself from Keyloggers
- Identity Theft Checklist (Financial Fraud Prevention)