credit & debt

Are Your Bank Accounts at Risk?

You can get a free ChexSystem report every year to check.

The huge Equifax data breach has made consumers hyper aware of how vulnerable they are to identity theft (see Keep Your Data Safe After the Equifax Breach). But the major credit-reporting bureaus aren’t the only ones that track your data. Several other specialty reporting agencies also collect consumer information.

Among them is Chex­Systems. When you apply for a checking or savings account, the bank or credit union may look up Chex­Systems’ report on you. You can retrieve it, too, to look for errors or fraudulently opened accounts.

A ChexSystems report usually includes only negative information associated with accounts you’ve held. So if you have a good record, the report should be clean. But if, say, you overdrew an account and failed to pay back the debt and resulting fees promptly, a black mark may appear. Such information remains on the report for five years. ChexSystems also lists inquiries from banks that have viewed your report.

You can request a free ChexSystems report every 12 months at www.chexsystems.com, and you’ll receive your report in the mail. If you find a problem, you have the right to dispute it. And just as with your credit reports, you can set up a security freeze (you may have to pay a fee), which blocks new institutions from viewing your report, or a security alert, which is similar to a fraud alert. Doing so may prevent an identity thief from opening accounts in your name.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can also check your free annual reports from other bank-account screening agencies, including Early Warning (www.earlywarning.com), Tele­Check (www.firstdata.com/telecheck) and Certegy (www.askcertegy.com).

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