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Free Credit Report? Really?

In 2011, when fraud-related losses exceeded $1.5 billion, identity theft again sat atop the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission — for the 12th straight year. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, credit protection and repair services — key weapons in preventing and combating ID theft — are also high on that list.

See Also: Scams & Fraud

Taking pains to safeguard personal information and sensitive documents is your best defense, but keeping tabs on your credit report is critical to recognizing signs that your identity may have been compromised.

What about those free credit reporting services you keep hearing about? Are they really free? Yes, as long as you mean, the only source for the free annual credit reports that are yours by law.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you a free annual credit report from each of the three nationwide reporting services – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. For the most current results, request a report using one of these companies at different times throughout the year.

Be alert to any discrepancies in your report: an account you don’t recognize, negative items you would dispute, anything that would suggest your good name and identity are in jeopardy. Contact all three of the credit reporting services immediately to investigate further and determine whether submitting a fraud alert or freezing your credit are the appropriate next steps.

Bottom line: When in doubt, check it out.

For additional information, contact ElderWatch, an AARP Foundation program offered in partnership with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Call 1-800-222-4444 (in the Denver metro area dial 303-222-4444) or visit.

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