One of the best early warnings of identity theft is finding something unexpected on your credit report, such as a loan for a car that isn’t yours.
During the pandemic, the three major credit reporting agencies began allowing consumers free access to their credit reports on a weekly basis and have jointly announced that free access will continue through 2023.
"The rising cost of living in the wake of COVID-19 has created economic consequences felt by many Americans," the CEOs of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion said in a joint statement. "Our industry is committed to helping people better position themselves for strong financial futures. Credit reports play an important role in financial health, and providing weekly reports for consumers at no charge is another way that we can support financial education and stability for people across the U.S. at this critical time."
At a time when identity theft crimes are increasing, regularly reviewing credit reports can alert consumers to unauthorized credit activity in their name. Names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers are sold regularly on the dark web.
A criminal who purchases this information can take out loans and apply for credit cards using a stolen identity. The victim might not become aware that this has happened until months later.
How to dispute erroneous information
Reviewing credit reports can also alert consumers to inaccurate entries that can drag down a credit score. Consumers may appeal to the credit agencies to have the erroneous information removed.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says consumers can submit a dispute to the credit reporting company by phone, by mail, or online.
“Explain the error and what you want changed,” CFPB advises. “Clearly identify each mistake separately, state the facts, explain why you are disputing the information, and request that it be removed or corrected.”
Online access to Equifax’s dispute form can be found here.
Online access to Experian’s dispute form can be found here.
Online access to TransUnion’s dispute form can be found here.
Credit reports document consumers’ credit history and should be a factual record of credit activity and payment history. They are important because they are used by lenders, creditors, service providers and other businesses to extend financial opportunities and other offers to people.
To access free weekly credit reports, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.