Help Desk FAQ

Credit reports and scores


Should I pay for a credit monitoring service?

Many credit card issuers, credit bureaus and other companies will, for a monthly or annual fee, alert you if certain information in your credit report changes (a new account is opened, for example). In some cases, the service monitors your report from only one of the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

You can achieve essentially the same goal at no charge by checking your credit reports yourself. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the big three credit bureaus every 12 months. Rather than order all three at once, you could stagger your requests, receiving one report every four months. Unless you have reason to believe you are at an increased risk for identity theft, this, along with carefully monitoring your monthly account statements, should be sufficient to catch any errors or suspicious activity before the problem escalates.

Order your free reports at the Annual Credit Report website or call 877-322-8228. This is the only source for guaranteed free credit reports. Other sources may advertise free reports or credit scores but then sign you up for a paid subscription to credit monitoring or another type of fee-based service when you make your request.

If you believe you’re at particularly high risk for identity theft (say, because someone overheard you give your credit card information over the phone) consider placing a fraud alert on your credit files. A fraud alert means that lenders must take extra precautions to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. Anyone can place a one-year initial fraud alert. An extended fraud alert, available to identity theft victims, lasts for seven years. An “active duty military alert” lasts for one year. Request an alert with any one of the three major credit bureaus; that company will notify the other two bureaus.

You can also freeze your report, which is an even stronger measure of protection than a fraud alert, but may not be right for everyone. Learn more in Consumer Action's "Freeze Your Credit File."




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