With recent information breaches and the discovery of the Heartbleed security bug, it is increasingly likely that somebody with criminal intent has access to your credit card information. Thus, your credit should be monitored regularly for any unusual activity or information. But do you have to pay for a monitoring service, or can you monitor your own credit?
Here are a few tips for monitoring your own credit without enlisting a monitoring service.
- Free Credit Reports – Federal law entitles you to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). You can set a schedule to order one free credit report from a different agency every four months. Get these free reports through www.annualcreditreport.com or order by phone at 877-FACTACT (877-322-8228).
The reports will give you an overview of your accounts with status and payment history, as well as requests for credit information – including ones you may not have initiated, such as card company preapproval offers or by lenders as part of a mortgage application. Scan them carefully for unexplained account activity, any account you did not open, or errors that can affect your credit score.
- Monitor Card Account Regularly – Virtually all credit cards have a means of checking account activity online, displaying outstanding charges and pending transactions. Take advantage of this and check frequently for unauthorized credit card purchases.
Pending transactions such as gas station purchases may show as a $1 temporary posting charge, to be replaced later with the actual number.
Sometimes you may not recognize the name listed on the transaction because it is the corporate holder of the store that you frequented. It is best to keep all your receipts as a double check.
- Consider Fraud Alerts – You can impose a fraud alert, then renew it after it lapses every 90 days. Registering with one agency will set an alert with all three. Fraud alerts require that you be contacted to verify any credit request made in your name.
This is one of the most effective methods of credit protection and monitoring; you just have to have the discipline to remember to renew it.
- Card Provider Services – Your credit card company may have notification services for unusual activity. Check with them to see what is available. Some will alert you automatically to verify activities such as multiple large purchases, very large purchases above a set limit, or purchases in foreign countries.
- Google Yourself Occasionally – If you go deep enough in the search results you will find services that collection agencies, investigators, and others use to look up basic information, many of which have levels of free access. It is scary how much information you can find on yourself with a simple Google search that costs no money.
If you are reasonably sure your information has been compromised but nothing has happened yet, you can apply a credit freeze to your account. This blocks access to your credit report and scores without your authorization. You must pay a fee to have it applied, and also to have it removed – but this gives you maximum protection.
You may not have the discipline, time, computer skills, or inclination to do all these checks yourself. In that case, you should consider a credit monitoring service – the current risk is too high to leave yourself vulnerable. However, with a regular schedule of checks, you can handle many of the credit monitoring tasks yourself. You will need to decide your own balance between risk tolerance, time, cost, and peace of mind.
If you would like to monitor your credit to prevent identity theft and see your credit reports and scores, check out our credit monitoring service.