Guarding My Credit Report
I read a terrific article in Newsweek a week or two ago about identity theft, and concluded that in the interest of being safe, not sorry, it was time for me to get more proactive with monitoring our credit reports and credit information. My first step: get an up-to-date credit report.
And thence into the dark tunnel of credit reporting agencies. There are three big companies in this space, Experian, Equifax and Transunion. But there are also dozens, if not hundreds of third party companies that can generate and track your credit report too.
Which leads to the obvious question: which one to choose?
Actually, my first step was to remember that there's a law now that lets everyone in the U.S. get a free credit report from all three agencies every 12 months. You can apply for one yourself at Annual Credit Report.com, so I did just that.
The first site I went to was Experian and it was pretty easy to go through, though they asked a number of interesting questions to validate it was me, not someone seeking my credit data (which I sure appreciate! If they could do fingerprints or retinal scans, I'd support that too). Digging in a bit, I finally got to:
- There are 0 potentially negative items in your report.
- You have XX accounts in good standing in your report.
- Check the recent requests for your credit history
- Check your personal information
- Check your personal statement
Easily done, and nothing to worry about in the report. Good!
Next up, Equifax. Again, they have me jump through some "Personal Information Checks" to verify I'm who I say I am. A good thing. But Equifax is trying to upsell me on my FICO Score, which I don't want. Sneaky, eh? A free credit report, but I have to wade through this sales pitch first. Oh, wrong, there are two sales pitches, they also want me to sign up for "Equifax Credit Watch Gold" at $6.95/month just for their one service. I'd say that Experian's Triple Alert (explained below) is a much better deal!
Confusingly, but typical for credit agencies, Equifax reports a different number of accounts: XY in good standing, X open, Y closed. Weird, but most importantly nothing that's a problem or potential risk. Still, Equifax could learn from Experian how to have a clear, comprehensible Web site.
Last up, TransUnion. This time they want me to pick a secret question from a set of pretty easily guessed questions, including favorite film, pet's name, friend's name, favorite TV show, etc. I wish they'd let me just enter my own Q&A as it'd be much more effective. Then it's guess how they'll identify me time. My choices: installment account number, revolving account number, personal address history or employer history. I'll choose door #1, Alex!
After much struggling, I finally am validated, just to find out that I can get my FICO Score from TransUnion for only $5.95. Still not a good deal. Summary credit report: good, clean. TransUnion has its own watching program too, ID Fraud-Watch. $10.95/quarter, only their report data.
My thinking is that each of these companies will now also include some sort of monitoring service offer, and I'll be able to choose which works best for us. But As I expected, I don't want is to pay separately to monitor all three services: Experian clearly isn't going to keep track of my TransUnion credit report data, and vice versa.
Surprise, though, my expectations are wrong. While TransUnion and Equifax both have one-report monitoring services, Experian surprised me with Triple Alert, which watches all three credit reports and scans for key changes. Price? $4.95/month.
Except, ironically, I can't actually buy this service.
I need to "login" to sign up, but I don't have an account and there's no obvious place to sign up for an account. Pretty lame, if you ask me. Being optimistic, I call their 800 number, but after four different attempts to navigate their system, I have to conclude that there's no way to actually get to anyone at the company and ask about this, so I am left unable to sign up. Tremendously stupid.
And so, I've checked my reports and all looks good, but how do I sign up for this monitoring service? Makes no sense at all.
Ah well, back to the drawing board, I guess...
Update - I received the following email from a reader: "To signup for the Experian credit report monitoring service, go to www.creditexpert.com. Click on the top menu where it says Experian Credit Manager on the left side of the menu. Then just follow the pages from there. You can sign-up for a 30-day trial period. (I'm an ex-Experian Employee and was laid off last year. I got the Credit Expert service free as a benefit.)"
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