When was the last time you checked your credit reports? If you can’t remember them or have never done so, it’s definitely time to check them out.
Information on your credit report, whether good or bad, is used to calculate your credit score, which can determine whether you qualify for a loan or credit card as well as the interest rate that you will be charged when you borrow money.
Some employers and landlords may also ask permission to check your credit reports, so it’s important that the information in the reports is accurate. Although it can 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, as incorrect information on your credit report can be a sign of identity theft.
Also, if you see accounts on your credit report that you didn’t open, you could be a victim of identity theft. If someone fraudulently uses your name and other personal information to open an account and doesn’t pay the bills, it can show up on your credit report and negatively impact your ability to get credit.
To request your free credit reports from the three national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – contact them directly, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Due to COVID-19, you can view your credit reports as often as you like until December 31, 2022. After this date, 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 will want to review them carefully. First, check the information at the top of the report. Verify that your name, address, social security number, and other identifying information are correct. If there are any errors, they should be reported to the credit reporting agency.
Next, verify that each account listed on the report belongs to you. It may be useful 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 company claiming you owe them money).
If there is a credit card account or a loan that does not belong to you, contact the bank immediately to report it. It could be a mistake or a sign of impersonation.
The credit report will also contain information about who checked it. If you see inquiries from banks or credit card companies that you did not initiate, this could be another sign of identity theft. You will want to contact the bank or credit card company to report this and request that the information be deleted.
Consumers can dispute any information 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 outcome in writing.
If you are concerned that you are or may become a victim of identity theft, you have the option of freezing your credit or having your credit report blocked with each of the three credit reporting bureaus. This prevents anyone from viewing your credit report without your consent.
Most creditors require a credit check to prevent someone who has obtained your personal information from fraudulently opening credit in your name. You will need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for new credit, but the freeze can be reinstated immediately after the lender checks your credit.
Parents may also want to check if there is a credit report in the child’s name. Generally, a child under 18 will not have a credit report unless someone uses their personal information to commit fraud. If there is any inaccurate or fraudulent information, report it to all three credit reporting agencies and the lender or creditor listed on the report so it can be corrected before they need to request a loan, a job or an apartment.
More information about credit reporting and credit freezing can be found on our website, NorthwesternDA.org or by calling our Greenfield office at 413-774-3186 or our Northampton office at 413-586-9225.
Anita Wilson is the Director of the Consumer Protection Unit for the Northwest District Attorney’s Office, which is a local consumer program working in cooperation with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. She writes a monthly consumer column for the Greenfield Recorder.