credit & debt

4 Low-Cost, DIY Solutions to Monitoring Your Credit, Preventing ID Theft

Here's how to keep your credit intact without breaking the bank.

With some legwork, you can piece together many of the same features yourself, either free or at low cost.

Freeze your credit reports. This step prevents new lenders from viewing your reports, and it should block thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name. Until recently, placing or lifting a freeze generally cost $5 to $10, depending on your state. But a bill making its way through Congress requires credit-reporting agencies to let consumers do it free. Equifax and TransUnion both also allow free "locks," which is a simpler way to block access to your report, but freezes have stronger legal protections.

Monitor your reports. Credit Karma will show you your Equifax and TransUnion reports on a weekly basis and alert you to changes in those reports. Discover and Mastercard cardholders can sign up for free monitoring of their Social Security numbers on the dark web.

Set up alerts. A credit freeze or lock won't stop a crook from fiddling with your existing credit card or financial accounts. But you can often easily set up alerts to spot unusual activity in your accounts, such as large withdrawals or payments.

Get free help. If you become a victim of identity fraud, you can browse recovery steps at the Federal Trade Commission's IdentityTheft.gov site, generate a tailored remediation plan and print sample dispute letters. The Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) posts guides to recovering from identity theft (including fixing problems that result from lost wallets and correcting misinformation on medical records), as well as links to state resources; you can also ask questions by phone, e-mail or online chat. Credit Sesame offers its members (signing up is free) access to restoration specialists. Also check with your employer, bank or credit card issuers to see if they offer resolution assistance.

TAKE OUR QUIZ: Is Your Identity at Risk?

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