Identity theft is a serious concern in the digital world. More than 12 million Americans a year have their identity stolen, and most don't find out for months or years. One way to spot identity theft before it ruins your life is your credit report.
Your credit report tells a company at a glance your level of debt, how often you make payments and generally shows how risky it is to lend you money or enter a long-term arrangement with you. If an identity thief opens a new credit card, takes out a mortgage, or does anything else credit-related in your name it will show up. The bad news is credit problems can keep a company from giving you a legitimate loan, but the good news is that if you check your credit report regularly, you can catch the identity theft before it goes too far.
Under federal law, you're entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your best option is to space out your requests so you get a credit report every four months.
To handle credit report requests, the three major credit reporting companies set up the Annual Credit Report site. Just go to the site and click the "Request your credit reports" button and follow the steps.
Be aware that Annual Credit Report will ask for your Social Security number so the credit companies can be sure they're pulling the right report. Before you give it, make sure you know how to keep hackers from snooping on your Internet connection.
Important Reminder: Annual Credit Report is completely free. It will not ask for your credit card number or a verification fee. If you see anything asking for payment information, you are in the wrong place. Do not enter any information!