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February 2008

Time for a New Year’s Financial Checkup

2008 is here and this is a great opportunity to take a few quick actions that will help protect you from financial frauds such as identity theft.

First, as regular readers of this column know, it is very important to regularly check your credit report to see if there are errors or if an unknown person is trying to use your good credit to take out a loan or to obtain credit cards. Take advantage of federal law and order your free credit report from our nation’s three main credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These agencies have created a joint website at www.annualcreditreport.com where you can order your credit report from each agency once in a 12-month period. You may also call toll free 1-877-322-8228 to order your report.

You will be asked several questions to help verify your identity such as the amount of your mortgage or consumer loan and what financial institution provided you with it. You should have loan information in front of you when you make the call.

This is one of the few times I can tell you—without any reservation—that it is worth it to provide the requested information.

What should you do if you find errors? You can report the errors to the credit reporting agencies and ask for the information to be changed. The credit report should contain information on how this should be done. Getting corrections done now could save you considerable trouble if you plan on applying for a house mortgage or car loan later this year.

What should you do if you find someone is attempting to access your good credit for a fraudulent purpose? Using the contact number listed on your report, you should immediately notify the credit reporting agency of the potential fraud. You may want to then place a “fraud alert” on your credit report to prevent anyone else from applying for credit in your name. You can place an “initial fraud alert” on your credit file for at least 90 days or you can place an “extended alert” on your file for seven years.

Minimize Mail

If you want to reduce the number of unsolicited, pre-approved credit card or insurance offers you receive in the mail, you should call 1-888-567-8688. This toll-free number is also operated by the three major credit reporting agencies. When you call, you will be asked for certain identifying information. Once finished, you will have your name removed from marketing lists for either five years or permanently. If you choose to permanently remove your name, you will be asked to sign and return a written request the agencies will mail to you. You also have the opportunity to put your name back on marketing lists.

Finally, do you want to limit the amount of catalogs and other unsolicited marketing mail you receive? If so, you should go to the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) website at https://www.dmachoice.org/MPS/mps_consumer_description.php to fill out an online request form. The DMA will then notify its members to remove you from solicitation lists. This step will make your mail carrier a much happier person and save a few trees as well. 


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