Get your free weekly credit reports through April 2021
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You may already know that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law, requires free credit reports from all three consumer credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — once every 12 months to those who request it. The website annualcreditreport.com is the only authorized site to provide these reports as part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three credit reporting companies have increased the frequency in which you may review your reports: you can access them weekly until April, either by requesting online, phone or via mail.
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Why you should check your credit report more often
Scams and identity theft are on the rise, with fraudsters using virus-related fears to access personal and financial information. The FCC has identified a number of scams, including scams using robocalls, COVID-19 texts, package delivery notifications, contact tracing requests and mobile payment apps.
With COVID-19 text message scams, for instance, scammers send text messages offering cures, warnings about the need for a test, financial relief or “special offers.” These scams might link to fraudulent websites that request identifying information, like your date of birth, Social Security number and a debit or credit card number to “verify your identity.”
As these websites can often mimic legitimate sites, you may not be aware that you’ve been victimized. So checking your credit report can help you spot identity theft or credit card fraud on your accounts.
Steps to access your reports
You can check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com. There’s a banner at the top of the site highlighting the free weekly reports due to COVID-19. Click the button to “Request your free credit reports” and begin the three-step process. You’ll complete a form asking for your name, birthday, Social Security number, current address and previous address (if you’ve lived at your current address for less than two years). Your address must be within the U.S. as the site only provides credit information for U.S. credit files.
Next, you’ll be asked to select which agency’s report you would like to access: Experian, Equifax and/or TransUnion. You can select just one, pick two or select all three. As you can access them all weekly, there is really no reason not to pick all three. When the reports go back to every 12 months, you may want to pick one, wait a few months to check the second, then another few months for the third. This allows you to look for changes or suspicious activity throughout the year.
You’ll then be asked multiple-choice questions to confirm your identity. After you’ve answered the questions, you’ll be able to access each report. If you want to keep your reports, you’ll need to download them to save and/or print while on the page, as you won’t be able to go back once you leave the page.
When you’re finished reviewing the first report, you’ll click at the top to get your next report or exit out. You’ll see a new set of multiple-choice questions to confirm your identity to access the next report. And you’ll repeat that process once more for the third report.
If you can’t access a report online, you’ll need to call (877) 322-8228 and request the report by phone or you can download a form to mail in your request.
Related: How credit scores work
What to do if there’s an issue or error
Once you’ve accessed your credit reports, you should make sure the accounts listed are ones you’ve created. Be sure that you recognize all of the information, including your personally identifiable information, such as names and addresses. Then check that the other information on your credit report is accurate and complete.
If there is any inaccurate information, you can file a dispute. Inaccurate information may not necessarily be suspicious or fraudulent, but it can potentially affect your ability to open new accounts. If you’re applying for some of the latest credit card sign-up bonuses and your credit reports incorrectly show late payments or accounts that don’t belong to you, this could impact your credit score and cause you to be denied new credit.
And if you think you may be a victim of identity theft, then request a fraud alert from each of the three bureaus. You may also want to file a report with law enforcement.
How to use your credit info to check your 5/24 status
In addition to checking your credit reports for fraudulent activity, the information in your credit reports can also help you determine your 5/24 status. If you’re looking to add new credit cards from Chase to your wallet, you’ll need to be sure that you’re under 5/24. This means you haven’t opened more than five new accounts in 24 months. Your reports will include the dates the accounts were opened.
Other ways to protect yourself from fraud
Checking your credit report is just one way to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft. You may also want to set up email, text or push notification account alerts for your credit cards if you haven’t already done so.
Make sure the banks have your current contact information on file, so they can reach you quickly if they notice suspicious account activity.
According to Citi, when they reach out to verify suspicious activity, they do not ask for any of the following:
- Your account number
- Existing security word (i.e., mother’s maiden name)
- PIN number
- Online User ID or online password
- Checking account information (from your account payment history)
- One–time passcode
So if someone is asking for this information, it’s a red flag. You’ll want to call the number on the back of your card if you want to verify the communication is legitimate.
If you haven’t been accessing your free credit reports regularly, now is a good time to begin. You may not feel that weekly is most useful for your personal situation, but even just a monthly check will help you ensure your information is accurate and up-to-date with the credit bureaus.
Featured photo by i_frontier / Getty Images
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