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No, Equifax Is Not Calling You. Watch Out for Scam Phone Calls After the Data Breach

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Less than a week after the Equifax data breach was made public, it seems scammers are already looking for opportunities to prey on concerned consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission posted a scam alert Thursday warning consumers to not give their personal information to anyone who calls and claims to be an Equifax representative. Over the summer, hackers breached the Atlanta-based credit bureau’s database and accessed the personal information of about 143 million consumers, including sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

But Equifax is not calling those affected by the breach, so if you get a phone call from someone saying they represent Equifax and want to verify your account information, the FTC advises you hang up. It’s ironic, in a way, to target victims by posing as a concerned Equifax representative. The company has been criticized widely for its sluggish response to the breach, which occurred sometime between mid-May and July but wasn’t discovered until July 29 and wasn’t announced until more than a month later.

In response to the security failure, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has demanded Equifax answer several questions about the breach, including why the company put off announcing the breach for so long. Equifax has until Sept. 22 to respond to the committee’s questions, and the committee plans to hold hearings on the breach in September or October.

In a company statement, Equifax CEO Richard Smith said the breach was a “disappointing event.”

“Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight,” he added. “While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more. And we will.”

In the breach, people’s Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and other personally identifiable information (PII) were compromised, so it’s understandable you’d be worried and are looking for help.

Here’s what you can do to take control of protecting your identity.

Assume you’re affected

While you can go to Equifax’s website and go through a multistep process to see if your information has been compromised, you can also just assume someone has their hands on your personal information. (It’s also worth noting the Equifax site reportedly isn’t reliable for telling you if you’re affected, and many consumers have reported the site is slow to load or doesn’t load at all.) Even if you weren’t among the 143 million whose personal information was compromised in this breach (and the odds aren’t in your favor), chances are it has been or will be in a breach at a different company or organization. With that in mind, you’ll want to focus on how to detect signs of identity theft and how to respond to them.

Monitor your credit

Equifax responded to the breach by offering free credit and identity monitoring to everyone — not just those affected — for a year through TrustedID Premier. You must go to equifaxsecurity2017.com to enroll, which requires entering your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You’ll then be given an enrollment date, which may be several days after you start the enrollment process, at which point you can return to the site to continue enrollment. You’ll need to set a reminder to continue the process, as Equifax won’t send you a notification when it’s time.

You have many other ways to find out if someone has misused your personal information. Several companies offer free credit scores — Credit Karma, Discover, Capital One, Mint, LendingTree (our parent company), etc. — either to everyone or to their customers. To help you choose, we put together this guide to getting your free credit score. Credit Karma also offers a free credit monitoring service, and Discover cardmembers can sign up for alerts when their Social Security numbers are detected on suspicious websites. You can also pay for credit monitoring services from a number of providers, including the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion , as well as credit scoring giant FICO.

Consider a credit freeze

You can also freeze your credit so no one, not even you, can apply for new credit using your information. If you do this, you have to initiate a freeze with each of three major credit bureaus, as well as “thaw” each report when you want to apply for a new credit account. Every time you freeze and thaw your credit you may be charged a fee, which varies by state. This only protects you from credit fraud and does not prevent things like taxpayer identity theft, criminal identity theft, medical identity theft, and insurance identity theft.

On Sept. 15, Equifax announced it is waiving the fee for removing and placing credit freezes on Equifax credit reports through Nov. 21, 2017. Anyone who paid for an Equifax freeze at or after 5 p.m. EDT on Sept. 7 will receive a refund, the company said.

Have a plan for responding to identity theft

One of the best ways you can prepare for identity theft is to detect it early. After that, you need to know how to resolve it. You can do this yourself by filing a police report, disputing fraudulent accounts on your credit reports, and making the phone calls necessary to correct any problems stemming from the fraud. Or you could pay someone to help you with this time-consuming task. Check with your employer to see if they offer identity theft insurance or identity theft resolution services as an employee benefit, and if not, consider paying for it.

We’ve rounded up the best identity theft resolution services here.

More than anything, remain calm as you sort through the fallout of this breach. Focus on making a plan for protecting yourself from and responding to identity theft and making sure you only deal with trustworthy service providers.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christine DiGangi
Christine DiGangi |

Christine DiGangi is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christine at christine@magnifymoney.com

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Identity Theft Protection

Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection Guide

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Theft Protection Guide

NEW! Updated after the Equifax data breach

Equifax recently announced that the Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and (in some instances) driver’s license numbers of 143 million people had been hacked. Here is a quick summary of the best steps to take to protect yourself – whether you were impacted by the hack or not. People should have a plan to:

  1. Prevent identity theft from happening with a credit freeze.
  2. Detect identity theft as soon as possible, with credit monitoring and account alerts. There are both free and subscription services available.
  3. Resolve identity theft if it does happen. You can either get help or do it yourself.

Our full identity theft guide is still below this summary. But, in light of the Equifax data breach, we wanted to provide you with some quick recommendations.

1. Prevention

If someone has stolen your personal information, you will want to prevent people from being able to open new credit accounts in your name. You can do that by freezing your credit. A credit freeze prevents any third party from obtaining a copy of your credit report. That means that new credit accounts cannot be opened. (You can read our full credit freeze guide here). Depending upon the state, there is typically a one-time fee to freeze your credit. And if you want to apply for credit, you would use a pin code (generated at the time of the freeze) to un-freeze your account. Here is where to go to freeze your credit:

In addition, you will want to set up 2-factor authentication on all open accounts (especially your bank accounts or email). That means any time you want to access your account or send money, you would need to receive a text message, email, phone call or confirm via an app.

2. Detection

Even if you freeze your credit, you should have credit monitoring in place. And if your credit isn’t frozen, you definitely need credit monitoring. With credit monitoring, you will be notified as soon as someone tries to open a new account. In addition, you will be notified if new negative information hits your credit report. (Even if you have a credit freeze, someone could use your Social Security number at a hospital. That medical debt could end up with a collection agency – and on your credit report. Only with monitoring would you know.)

You can get 1-bureau monitoring for free. You have to pay for 3-bureau monitoring. Here are our recommendations:

  • Best Free (1-bureau) monitoring: CreditKarma

With CreditKarma, you can monitor your TransUnion credit report daily. You will be notified of any change to your credit report – including newly opened accounts, inquiries or collection items.

  • Cheapest 3-bureau monitoring: CreditSesame ($15.95 per month)

With CreditSesame you can monitor all 3 credit bureaus daily. This will cost you $15.95 a month, and does not include resolution services. If you are very concerned about identity theft, 3-bureau monitoring could be worth the investment.

  • Set up alerts on all active accounts (free)

Most banks, credit card companies and credit unions have a feature that allows you to receive an alert (text message or email). Make sure you set these up for all accounts – especially accounts that you rarely or never use. (You can read our guide to setting up alerts here.)

3. Resolution

If you are the victim of identity theft, you will need a game plan for resolution. The best place to start is IdentityTheft.gov, where you can see a full checklist of the steps to take to ensure you minimize losses and regain control of your identity.

You might want to have help with the resolution process. That is where credit resolution services come in. In a best case scenario, you give power of attorney to the company, and you will have a dedicated case worker handling everything (which can take years).

  • Cheapest resolution service: Zander ($6.75 per month)

At Zander, you are paying for “white glove” on-shore service if your identity is stolen. You will also have a $1 million insurance policy to cover any expenses associated with recovering your identity.

Bottom Line

  • Freeze your credit with all 3 credit bureaus
  • Sign up for free 1-bureau credit monitoring at CreditKarma
  • Make sure all open (existing) accounts have both alerts and dual-factor authentication enabled
  • Check your report with the other 2 bureaus at least once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Sign up for credit resolution services ($6.75 a month) at Zander

If you do these things, you will have a cost-effective strategy to protect yourself. Below is the original guide that was published. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us at info@magnifymoney.com.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is any attempt by another person to use your identity for their own personal or financial benefit. Identity theft victims are protected by law, and they have the right to a full restoration of their identity, but achieving restoration isn’t always easy. It is up to identity theft victims to find and follow the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission to achieve full restoration of their accounts, identity and good legal standing.

Identity theft manifests itself in two forms:

Account Takeover

The most common form of identity theft is an account takeover which involves another person using either your credit or debit accounts to make transactions for their benefit.

Identity Takeover

A less common form of identity theft is called identity takeover. This involves thieves using the name, social security number, or other personally identifying information to fraudulently assume their victim’s identity for their own benefit.

When it comes to identity takeover, it’s not just your credit and money that is at risk, it’s your entire identity. In worst case scenarios, you may find that your ID is filled with false medical records, false work documents, criminal charges, unpaid taxes in addition to financial and credit issues to resolve.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Identity theft can take place through physical and cyber channels, and nearly everyone is at risk for identity theft. Knowing the most common identity theft scams can help you take common sense steps to mitigate risk.

Account Takeover:

  • Data Breaches- Your account number gets stolen from a large corporate database along with thousands or millions of other people’s accounts.
  • Account Skimming- A thief steals your card ID and pin from an ATM or during a transaction, and uses it for purchases or to steal cash later on.
  • Stolen Cards- A thief steals your card and uses it.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining account information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your account information when you are logged into an account on an unsecure wireless connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your card (or your ATM Pin) to make purchases without your knowledge or consent.

Identity Takeover:

  • Stolen tax documents- Thieves steal tax documents that include SSN, employment information and more from your mail, trash or digital locations.
  • Documents in your trash- Thieves steal documents with personally identifiable information from your trash or recycling bin.
  • Data Breaches- Your personal information gets stolen from a large corporate database.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining personal and financial information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your personal information when you are not on a secure wireless internet connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your personally identifying information (such as SSN, address, and more) for personal gain.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Although it is impossible to eradicate identity theft, but each person should take steps to mitigate their risk of identity theft and the reach of consequences in the event of such theft.

Mitigating the risks and costs associated with identity theft depends on a thoughtful approach in four categories:

  • Proactively preventing identity theft
  • Monitoring your identity for fraud
  • Limiting the cost of resolution
  • Restoring your identity

You can learn more about the free and paid options for each of these categories below:

Prevention

Although it’s impossible to completely prevent identity theft, everyone can take steps to decrease their risk of being a victim.

It is particularly important to note that friends and family members are often the perpetrators of identity theft. If you are unwilling to press charges against someone, then you need to do all you can to prevent them from stealing your identity.

How do I prevent identity theft?

Account Takeover:

Criminals can find ways around even the best security, but you can take steps to make yourself a less attractive target for thieves.
Top 10 ways to decrease your risk of Account Takeover

  • Don’t give out your ATM PIN to anyone (including family or friends).
  • Use your hands to cover the pin-pad when using an ATM
  • Avoid ATMs at convenience stores or other locations that don’t have security footage
  • Password protects your phone.
  • Don’t log into bank accounts or credit card statements on public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not give out account information (online, over the phone, or in person) unless you are about to make a transaction.
  • If anyone calls to ask for your account information, do not give it out. If you suspect the call may be legitimate, call your credit card company or bank back through their secured lines.
  • Use high quality passwords for online financial accounts.
  • Change passwords for online financial accounts frequently.
  • Shred documents (including old checks) that have account numbers in them before disposing.

Identity Takeover:

Protecting yourself from identity takeover requires protecting yourself from cyber-criminals, criminals who may have access to paper documents, and from thoughtless friends and family members. Even though identity takeover is less common, it’s even more important to take protective measures against it.
Top 7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Takeover

  • Do not give out your Social Security number to anyone unless there is a legitimate financial, tax or employment need.
  • Shred or burn documents that contain personal identifying information.
  • Do not access tax documents or tax software via public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not store your Social Security Number on your phone.
  • Freeze your credit if you suspect someone attempted to steal your identity.
  • Use anti-virus software or personal encryption software.
  • Use high quality passwords on all accounts that contain personal info.

What companies can help me prevent identity theft?

Most protective measures are free to consumers, and any company that promises full prevention of identity theft is lying. Because identity thieves constantly evolve, it is not possible to fully avoid identity theft risk.

Account takeover

Identity Guard Unfortunately, no company can completely prevent others from taking over your accounts. As long as you have digital accounts you will retain some level of risk.However, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk by providing customers with password, keystroke and anti-virus protection on their personal computer. This will reduce your risk of being individually targeted for identity theft.

Identity Takeover

If you are worried about identity takeover, one low cost option you may want to consider is a credit freeze. If you are either in the process of cleaning up identity theft, or you have reason to believe that you are at a high risk for identity theft then you should consider placing a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze prevents other people from viewing your credit history, and it prevents you and others from initiating new lines of credit.

Credit freezes (which range from $4-$10 per credit bureau, and are free if you are a victim of identity theft) provide as much protection as any of the major identity theft insurance products that are available on the market.

Some companies can help you reduce your risk of identity takeover by adding additional security against hackers and cyber criminals.
LifeLock Advantage The premier advertiser of identity theft protection services was LifeLock who has been sued repeatedly for falsely advertising their ability to completely prevent identity theft. Since then, LifeLock has turned more towards advertising protection through monitoring.
Identity Guard Using the encryption methods explained above, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk for account takeover from cyber criminals who may target personal information.

Monitoring

When it comes to identity theft, the best defense is the early detection of fraudulent activity. If you detect fraudulent activity early on, you can usually prevent full account takeovers, quickly get reimbursed for fraudulent activity, and deal with less paperwork as you unravel the effects of identity fraud. As a result, we recommend that everyone take monitoring their personal information seriously.

How do I monitor for identity theft?

Account Takeover

Since account takeover involves the fraudulent use of existing credit and debit accounts, it is fairly easy to monitor your accounts using just a few simple tricks.

  • Set up your own alerting system on all open accounts (even if you don’t use them regularly)
  • Review transactions before paying your credit card bill.
  • Pay attention to alerts from your bank or account issuer if they experience a data breach
  • Receive proactive data breach updates using identity theft protection services.

Identity Takeover

Identity takeover has both financial and non-financial components, but most monitoring efforts focus on the financial component of monitoring. This is because identity theft most commonly manifests itself through new credit accounts being opened or negative information (unpaid bills) being introduced to your credit report. The top ways to monitor for identity takeover include:

  • Annually check for fraudulent or incorrect information on savings accounts or checking accounts using the ChexSystems.
  • Pay for three credit bureau monitoring.
  • Pay for web or “dark web” surveillance that will identify if your social security number is being offered for sale.
  • Pay for change of address alerts from monitoring companies.

What companies can help me monitor for identity theft?

While no company can identify every instance of identity theft through monitoring, you may find that you are more comfortable maximizing the amount of monitoring available to you.

Identity Takeover

Identity Takeover typically manifests itself through negative credit information, so monitoring your credit report for fraudulent information, is the best way to monitor for identity theft.

In addition to the free annual credit reports, free two bureau monitoring, and free checking account monitoring, it is possible to pay to receive three bureau credit monitoring services along with the monitoring of other data that will help you identify and resolve identity theft early on.This can be a good choice if you are in the midst of dealing actively with credit card fraud, or you want some of the additional coverage from these insurance providers.

3-logos

TrueCredit ($19.95/month) and AARP ($12.95/month or $109.99/year) offered through TrustedID also provides cost effective monitoring of all three credit bureaus. AARP and TrustedID also provide up to $1 million in Identity Theft insurance which is a benefit explained below. FICO Ultimate 3B myFICO ($29.95/month or $329/year) offers quarterly 3 bureau credit monitoring along with intelligent identity theft monitoring features including Black Market Website Surveillance of the sale of your identity information and Social Security number alias watch which monitors the names and addresses associated with your SSN.

Limiting the Cost of resolution:

Although laws exist to limit financial loss for consumers, identity theft resolution tends to have some out of pocket costs. These costs include liability losses (limited to $50 if fraudulent charges are reported within 2 days or $500 if reported within 60 days), legal costs (ranging from $20 for notarized forms to a few thousand if you undergo legal battles), and lost wages if you have to take time off to battle the legal system.

How do I limit the costs of resolution?

Account Takeover

  • Use debit and credit cards that advertise $0 Fraud Liability
  • Report any fraudulent transactions (especially cash withdrawals) immediately.
  • Follow your bank’s process for cancelling and reissuing accounts immediately.
  • Change login IDs, passwords, and PIN codes immediately.
  • Follow these steps to report identity theft.

Typically account takeover can be resolved at no out of pocket costs to you. By alerting your issuing bank, you can typically be made financially whole (unless the theft involved ATM withdrawals using your PIN number).

Identity Takeover

  • Report identity theft right away.
  • You will need to file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • Change passwords and PINs as quickly as possible.
  • Follow these steps as quickly as possible to minimize the likelihood of litigation.
  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance which will cover the financial costs associated with identity theft resolution.

Identity takeover is much more cumbersome to resolve, but outside of litigation, the financial costs are limited. If you are worried about loss liability or potential courtroom expenses, you may want find that purchasing identity theft insurance protection will be valuable for your peace of mind.

What companies can help me limit the cost of resolution?

Account Takeover

If your account is taken over, by law your financial institution must hold you to a $0 Fraud Liability on fraudulent transactions if you still have possession of your card.

However, if your card was lost or stolen, then you have up to $50 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within two days, and up to $500 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within 60 days. After that point, your liability is limitless.

Individual Plan Zander ($6.75/month or $75/year) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers. Additionally, they offer up to $10,000 in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.Zander will not pay out any benefit if the unauthorized transfer was made by a person using your card and your PIN if you gave them access to that information in the past.

Identity Takeover

Among the most prominent identity theft products, identity theft insurance promises to cover the complete cost associated with identity theft. This can include the costs of notarization, legal costs, filing costs, and even lost wages. Identity theft insurance policies can cover anywhere from $25,000- $1 Million in coverage though $25,000 should be more than sufficient for most people.

Individual Plan Zander ($6.75 per month) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers, and up to $1 million in coverage for identity theft related losses. Additionally, they offer up to $10K in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.
Equifax ID PatrolTM Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers up to $25,000 in identity theft insurance along with 3 credit bureau monitoring services, resolution services. Although their limit is lower than the other companies, $25,000 is likely to be more than enough to pay for all the legal fees and lost wages that could occur in a worst case identity theft scenario. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.
Identity Guard Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) offers 3 credit bureau monitoring and personal resolution services, and their insurance is up to $1Million. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.

Resolution

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then it is up to you to report the identity theft and restore your good name to all affected areas. This can be a time consuming task, and some companies are willing to take on the burden for you.

How do I restore my identity after I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

Account Takeover:

  • Call your credit or debit card company, cancel your existing account, and have them replace it with something new.
  • Make sure that fraudulent charges are removed and your money has been restored.
  • If instructed by your bank, file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • If necessary, follow these steps to resolve identity theft according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • If you have paid for identity theft resolution services, report identity theft to your company, so that they can complete resolution steps on your behalf.

Account takeover can usually be resolved between you and your financial institution without too much red tape or documentation required.

Identity Takeover:

  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov, a website that will walk you through all of the steps required to take back your identity. You will also be able to speak with real people. Steps include:
  • Place a Fraud Alert and Get Credit Reports
  • Report identity theft to FTC
  • File a police Report
  • Freeze your credit
  • Close fraudulent accounts
  • Repair your credit report
  • Unravel misuses of your ID for tax, work, social security, medical or other purposes.
  • Utilize resolution services from an existing identity theft resolution policy to assist or resolve issues for you.

What companies can help me restore my identity?

The average identity theft victim spends more than 30 hours unraveling the work of identity thieves in order to make themselves whole again. Several companies offer a range of identity theft resolution services that can help resolve both account takeover and identity takeover.

Resolution Assistance

These companies offer resolution help, but they do not restore your identity on your behalf.

Equifax ID PatrolTM Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers resolution assistance through a members only toll-free hotline; depending on your situation, they may assign a caseworker directly to you, but it is up to you to complete all filing. Equifax has an A+ rating with the BBB, but their identity theft product had few online reviews
Identity Guard Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) provides a toll free hotline and promises one on one service, but you are expected to do the heavy lifting associated with filing paperwork and recovery. Identity Guard has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and all complaints filed against them have been resolved. Online customer reviews showed overwhelmingly positive support.
PrivacyGuard PrivacyGuard ($19.99 per month) offers a team of fraud experts but not individualized caseworkers. The experts take on much of the burden of contacting creditors and filing paperwork. However, online reviews for PrivacyGuard showed overwhelmingly negative experiences including billing problems and poor customer service.
FICO Ultimate 3B myFICO ($29.95 per month) provides 24/7 restoration assistance with identity theft experts, and they promise to hire lawyers, investigators and legal case managers on your behalf if you need legal help. However, some of the resolution burden continues to rest with the consumer.

Guaranteed Full Resolution:

These companies promise to do all the work necessary to restore your identity on your behalf.

Individual Plan Zander Insurance ($6.75 monthly) is one of the top names in restoration services. They assign a US based case worker directly to your case and promise to do all the heavy lifting associated with restoring your identity. They boast a 100% success rate in identity recovery, have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and overwhelmingly positive online reviews.
IDShield Family ID Shield ($19.95 per month) promises that a licensed private investigator will be assigned directly to your case, and provide you with complete resolution. They are not rated by the Better Business Bureau, but they have very positive online reviews.

Determining the Right Products for You

Best overall free strategy

  • Use AnnualCreditReport.com to review your 3 bureau credit report once per year.
  • Use ChexSystems to check for accurate checking and savings information once per year.
  • Use CreditKarma to access two of three credit bureau reports on a weekly basis.
  • Set up transaction alert s for open credit accounts.
  • Review debit and credit transactions at least monthly.
  • Keep your information secure and private.
  • Freeze your credit if you fall victim to identity theft.
  • Follow the FTC steps to resolve identity theft.

Cheapest Way to Maximize Resolution

For a little more money:

      Purchase ID Shield and receive personalized resolution services from a Kroll Private Investigator (especially helpful in complex identity takeover situations) along with single bureau credit monitoring: Total Cost $9.99 per month

Cheapest Way to Limit the Cost of Resolution

  • Purchase Zander Identity Theft Insurance and receive up to $1 million in identity theft insurance including recovery of up to $10,000 in unauthorized electronically transferred funds along with recovery services: Total Cost $6.75 per month

Best Coverage That Money Can Buy

You’ll get the most value by combining the free credit monitoring from CreditKarma and the resolution services from Zander Identity Theft Insurance — Credit Karma would alert you to a problem and Zander would help you resolve it, and Zander’s service costs $6.75 per month.However, for those who are willing to sacrifice a bit in the way of resolution services for additional monitoring, myFICO Ultimate 3B ($29.99/month) offers acceptable resolution services combined top insurance and the best monitoring services on the market.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Featured, Identity Theft Protection

How to Run a Financial Background Check on Yourself

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

How to Run a Financial Background Check on Yourself

Imagine getting turned down for a job or an apartment rental and having no idea why. You call up the lender or landlord, and they tell you the worst: you failed their credit background check. You’re dumbfounded. You’ve never missed a bill payment and as far as you know, your credit report should be squeaky clean. You immediately request a free copy of your credit report, only to find out there are all sorts of errors — including missed payments on debts you never borrowed and the names of collection agencies you’ve never heard of.

Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t so far-fetched. In 2012, a study from the Federal Trade Commission found that about one in five people had an error on at least one of their consumer credit reports. Sometimes the errors are minor and can be disputed easily. Other cases are much more complicated. In criminal cases of identity theft — if a person has been using your identity to get medical treatment on your tab, for example — you could find yourself facing legal charges on their behalf.

It’s practically impossible to prevent these types of mistakes from happening. To try to stay ahead of errors and potential fraud, it’s good to know how to run your own financial background check. And we’re not just talking about checking your credit reports. There are several important consumer reports that many people may not realize exist — from your medical history report and insurance records to your bank history and tenant records.

Banks, employers, landlords, insurance companies, lenders, utility companies, and other businesses purchase consumer reports to screen applicants. The information in your reports could impact their decision to offer you a loan, employment, or other type of contract. It’s also used to determine the terms of the arrangement, such as the interest rate on a loan or security deposit on a rental.

If you’re worried something on your consumer reports might blow your chances of qualifying for a job, a loan, or even housing, it is possible to check your credit and consumer reports before sending in an application. Catch them early enough and you have you a chance to dispute any mistakes.

Who Can Check Your Consumer Reports?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau maintains a list of several dozen consumer reporting agencies along with their contact information. You may recognize the three largest consumer reporting companies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. But there are also specialty agencies that collect, organize, and sell specific types of information about you, such as your history of prescription drug purchases.

While you can always request a copy of your own reports, consumer reporting agencies can only send a copy to another individual or organization under certain circumstance. Your written permission or a court order, along with a valid reason for needing a copy of the report, could satisfy that requirement.

Generally, you’ll be able to request one free copy of each of your consumer reports at least once every 12 months. You also may be entitled to an additional free copy of a report if:

  •  The information within the report is used to make an adverse action against you, such as denying your application or raising your rate. To get a free report due to an adverse action, you must make the request within 60 days of receiving the notice.
  • You place a fraud alert on your credit file after someone stole your identity.
  • You’re unemployed and will look for work in the next 60 days.
  • You’re on public assistance.

When you don’t qualify for a free report, by law consumer reporting companies can only charge a maximum $12 per report that you request.

While you may be able to request a free or inexpensive copy of your consumer reports from a variety of agencies, the process could be time consuming. Although it’ll cost more, it could be worth your time to pay for a background check that includes information from multiple sources.

To conduct a DIY financial background check on yourself, we’ve listed several types of consumer reports you can check and how to go about checking.

Keep in mind, you might not always have a report to review. For example, if you’ve never had a credit line or loan, you might not have a consumer credit report. Or, if you’ve never filed an insurance claim, you might not have one of the specialty insurance reports.

You also might not have a report if there isn’t any recent activity, as information generally drops off reports after seven years.

Credit Reports

You can request a free copy of your credit report from a bureau once every 12 months on AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also companies that give you free access to your Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion reports throughout the year, as well as several paid options that give you access to your reports from all three bureaus.

Your credit reports contain several sections, including identifying information, a record of your payments on credit accounts, credit inquiries, and public records or collections information. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three largest nationwide credit bureaus, and your credit report from each bureau should be similar, but not necessarily the same.

Checking your credit reports is an important first step because the data on the reports could be used by lenders, landlords, utilities, insurance companies, and employers. Negative marks on your report could lead to you lose an apartment or job opportunity, or result in worse loan terms or higher insurance premiums. The information on your credit reports is also what determines your credit score, which is used for many similar purposes.

Credit reports contain positive information, such as on-time payments, as well as derogatory marks, including past bankruptcies, late payments, and liens. If you find incorrect information on one of your reports, you can file a dispute online or by mail.

Your credit report won’t necessarily come with a credit score, but there are free and paid ways to get a copy of one, or more, of your credit scores.

Check and Bank Account Reports

If you’re having trouble opening a bank account or getting a merchant to accept a check, look for errors or negative information in reports from the following companies.

ChexSystems keeps a database on consumers’ activity with checking and savings accounts. Many banks will pull your report and consider the information when reviewing your application for a new account. Unlike consumer credit reports, your ChexSystems report won’t have positive information. Instead, they only show negative marks, such bounced checks or unpaid fees.

You can request a free copy of your report online, by mail, or by fax, and file disputes online. ChexSystems also scores people based on a 100 to 899 scale based on the information within their report, and you can request a free copy of your score by mail or by fax.

There are also several companies that track consumers’ history with checks and help merchants and payment processors decide whether or not to accept someone’s check. You can request a free copy of your reports from Certegy Check Services, TeleCheck, and Early Warning Services.

Alternative Lending Reports

Some lenders don’t report your history of payments, or lack of payments, to the three nationwide credit bureaus. However, several smaller consumer credit reporting agencies, such as Clarity Services and FactorTrust, collect this “alternative” credit data. Often, the information comes from subprime or alternative lenders, such as payday lenders, rent-to-own retailers, subprime auto lenders, and check-cashing services.

MicroBilt, and its subsidiary PRBC, as well as CoreLogic Teletrack also compile credit reports using alternative lending data and use the information to create consumer credit scores. You can request a copy of your reports from CoreLogic and MicroBilt.

Insurance Reports

Insurance reports could show the types of insurance coverage you have, your claim history, and the resulting losses from a claim. Your report might have information on your driving record or your personal property insurance claims, and that data could impact your ability to get coverage and your premiums.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions offers two C.L.U.E. reports that you can order for free, one for personal property and a second for auto insurance. Insurance Information Exchange also collect information on people’s driving record. However, you can only request a free copy of your report after an adverse action has been taken against you due to information within the report.

Medical History Reports

Life, health, disability, long-term care, and other health-related insurance companies may use specialty medical reports to screen applicants.

MIB, Inc. collects information related to medical conditions and hazardous work environments, with your permission. Milliman IntelliScript creates reports on people’s prescription drug purchases.

Employment Screening Reports

Some companies pull job applicants’ credit reports, but others use more thorough background checks to screen applicants. The reports could have information about your criminal record, driving record, drug or alcohol test results, workers’ compensation claims, and volunteer activity. They could also be used to verify your education, professional accreditations, and previous salaries.

Employers aren’t allowed to pull your consumer credit report without your written permission. When a company requests a consumer report for employment-screening purposes, it won’t receive a credit score with the report.

The Work Number, Sterling Talent Solutions, Pre Employ, HireRight, GIS, and First Advantage all offer employment screening reports and services. You can request a free copy of your report, if it exists, from each company. Knowing what the hiring manager will or won’t see could give you extra time to prepare an explanation of the potentially negative information they find.

Tenant Screening Reports

With your permission, some landlords will look over a copy of your consumer credit report and check it for past late payments, bankruptcies, or other indications that you’ll have trouble paying rent.

Others use a more comprehensive tenant screening service and receive a report that could detail whether or not a person has a criminal record, is on a sex-offender or terrorist list, or has been evicted. Some tenant screening reports also have a record of the person’s rent payments and include a copy of one of their consumer credit reports.

You could request a copy of your reports, such as RealPage, Inc.’s LeasingDesk report or Experian’s RentBureau report, to check it for incorrect information before submitting rental applications.

Additional Reports

There are a variety of other consumer reports you can request and review for errors. For example, the CoreLogic Credco consumer report contains information related to properties you own and could be used by mortgage lenders or brokers. (The same company’s Teletrack report is mentioned above as an alternative lending report.) LexisNexis collects and compiles information on individuals from a variety of proprietary sources and public records.

There’s also SageStream, whose consumer reports are used by mobile phone providers, utilities, and other lenders. The National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange collects information and sells reports about consumers’ telecom and utility accounts and payment history. If you’ve ever had to show a photo identification to make a return at a store, The Retail Equation could add that data point to your profile, and if they suspect fraudulent activity, you might be blacklisted from making returns to some retailers in the future.

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Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at louis@magnifymoney.com

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