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Preventing Identity Theft – Start by Getting a Free Credit Report

We hear a lot in the news today about “identity theft.”  In this next series of articles, I’ll give you some pointers on how to minimize the risk that you’ll become a victim.

For example, a man begins getting letters and phone calls from a credit card company telling him he is in default on his account.  He doesn’t have an account with that company …or so he thinks.  In fact, his daughter had opened an account in his name without his permission.  As long as the daughter was paying on the account, he remained unaware.  When she stopped making payments, that’s when the company began to contact him.

This “surprise” could have been avoided if he was a little more vigilant about his accounts.  So how do you find out if there are accounts in your name you don’t know about? It’s pretty easy. Under Federal law, you are entitled to obtain an annual free credit report.  It’s really free…nothing to sign up for, no credit card required, no gimmicks.  Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com and follow the steps. You will have to provide a social security number and other personal information.  You can obtain free reports from the big three credit reporting companies Experian, Transunion and Equifax. Be prepared to print or save to your computer the credit reports as they are typically only available during that login session.  You have the option to request reports from all three companies at the same time or, if you want to review your reports more often, you can request one report from a different company every four months.  You are limited to one report each year from each company.

You can also request your free reports by phone by calling (877) 322-8228.

Read your reports carefully.  Look for accounts that you do not recognize, addresses listed for you that you’ve never lived at, credit inquiries from companies you don’t recognize and make sure any other information on the report is completely accurate.

Next time, we’ll talk about ways to correct errors in your report.

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Active duty or retired Servicemembers and their ID card holder Family Members may be eligible for free legal assistance. To find a legal assistance office near you, call your nearest military installation or go to http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php.

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Mary Benzinger is the Army Legal Assistance Attorney at the Pentagon Army and Air Force Legal Assistance Office, Washington, D.C.