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Kip Tips

Simple Steps to Monitor, Defend Your Credit

You can track some credit reports with free tools from Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, but for-pay services may be worthwhile.

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Staying on top of your credit reports is a crucial step in spotting identity theft. At www.annualcreditreport.com, you can get a free credit report from each of the major credit agencies—Equifax, Experian and Trans­Union—once per year. (Some states allow for an additional free report each year.) When you review the reports, look for red flags: credit card, bank or loan accounts that you never opened; an account in collection that isn’t yours; or a home address where you never lived. (See Take Charge of Your Credit.)

See Also: Kiplinger's Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

You can add a layer of protection by placing a fraud alert on your reports. An initial fraud alert, which requires businesses to take extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit, is free and lasts 90 days (you can renew it when it expires). When you set up a fraud alert with one credit agency, it will notify the other two. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can get an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years.

A credit freeze steps up security by blocking new creditors from accessing your credit report. You’ll have to contact each bureau to freeze your reports, and you may have to pay a fee (typically $5 to $10) to initiate a freeze and to lift it. If you don’t take out new credit very often and are concerned about becoming a victim of ID theft (or if you’ve already been a victim), a credit freeze can offer peace of mind without major hassle.

Monitor Your Credit

For broad assistance in spotting identity theft and cleaning up in its aftermath, consider using an identity theft protection service. Credit monitoring is typically included in identity theft protection services and can alert you to changes in your reports, such as inquiries from lenders or a new address. Check with your bank or credit union, insurers, and employer to see whether they provide complimentary or low-cost services. Many organizations that have been breached offer free identity theft monitoring for one to two years.

The free tools at Credit Karma and Credit Sesame will track your TransUnion and Experian reports, respectively, and send you notifications. But paying for a service may be worthwhile. Some services perform tasks that are more difficult for consumers, such as scanning Internet black markets for your data. For example, Identity Guard’s Total Protection plan ($20 a month) includes monitoring of reports from all three credit bureaus, black market scanning and more.