A consumer from Penobscot County reached out to us recently, saying she was afraid she might have let herself become a victim of identity theft.
Last year, the woman cashed in an annuity. Knowing she would have to report the transaction on this year’s income tax filing, she tried to email the pertinent information to her accountant. However, by missing one keystroke, she sent the message somewhere other than to the accountant. She worried about who might have received her personal and financial information and how it might be used.
A check with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection reaffirmed our initial reaction: get a credit report from one of the three major reporting agencies, and do it FAST (at www.annualcreditreport.com — this is the truly free one). You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every year, and rotating your requests every four months keeps you abreast of your credit history and any errors or misdeeds that might affect that history.
The state credit protection folks also strongly encourage visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website ( http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft). Info there can help repair your damaged credit. But guess what: It’s not just the big three reporting agencies that keep track of your credit history.
There are at least several dozen companies that keep track of other things. Some collect information about medical conditions and data that consumers provide on insurance applications. Others track rental performance, including lease violations, damages, skips and unauthorized pets. Still others compile information on check writing, employment histories, criminal backgrounds and other personal information. A firm called The Work Number provides employment and income verification, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which says the company compiles data from large private sector payroll processors.
The CFPB is just beginning to get a handle on such operations, which comprise part of what’s known as alternative credit. For consumers without a traditional credit history, alternative credit can be a way to establish a good credit history, for example, by repeatedly paying multiple utility bills on time.
For people concerned about their info in a growing number of trackers’ hands, the CFPB offers some reassurance. The bureau requires companies that collect information about you to make that information available to you. Some offer a free report every year; others will give you a free report only if the information in the report has had some adverse effect on you. If you have to pay for a report, it can’t cost more than $11.50.
The CFPB says you may want to check with one or more of these specialty bureaus:
- If you think your identity has been stolen or someone has fraudulently cashed a check using your bank account.
- Before you apply for insurance.
- Before you apply for a lease.
- If, when applying for a job, your potential employer asks for your written okay to get a report.
For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov and search “you have a right to see speciality consumer reports, too.”
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email email@example.com.