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Review Your Credit Report

Review Your Credit Report

Review Your Credit Reports

How to review your personal credit reports for errors and fraud

How%20to%20review%20your%20personal%20credit%20reports%20for%20errors%2C%20fraud%2C%20and%20identity%20theft Bookmark and Share

How accurate is your credit report?

Credit report

Despite their importance, it is widely estimated that as many as 70% of all consumer credit reports contain errors, and 25% of these may be so inaccurate that a consumer may be rejected for a loan or employment. It is critical for you to know and regularly review the information contained in your credit reports, ensure that the information reported is accurate, and properly dispute any information that is inaccurate or a result of identity theft or fraud.

You should carefully review your personal credit reports, from each of the credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus), no less than once per year. Reviewing your report from each bureau is important because many creditors do not report to all of the bureaus, and the information contained in the reports can vary significantly between each bureau. See Free Annual Credit Reports for more information.

What Information is in a Credit Report?

Each credit reporting agency has its own unique way of organizing and displaying the information contained in their credit files when they produce a consumer’s credit report. However, the following examples are representative of the way that the information may appear in your reports.

Tip:  Every credit report generated is assigned a unique report reference number, which may also be referred to as a report confirmation number. This number will typically appear on the first page, or cover page, of your report. Any time that you receive a copy of your credit report, you should always note the report's unique report reference number because you will need to include this number on any notice of dispute regarding an item or information that appears on that specific report.

Credit Report Header Information

The credit report header appears at the beginning of your credit report, and includes the basic information that has been reported about you to the credit reporting agency. The credit report header includes such information as your Social Security number, your name and other name variations that have been reported, your current and previous employers, your current and previous addresses, etc. It may also include a summary of open credit accounts, collections accounts and derogatory information, and also certain public records such as reported bankruptcies, liens and judgments, and certain felony convictions.

It is important to review your credit report header information because incorrect information or variations of name, SSN, and other key identification information could indicate potential synthetic identity theft.

When reviewing your credit report header information, you should look for any inaccuracies and unrecognized information. You should be especially alert for:

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  • Unknown names or aliases
  • Unknown addresses
  • Unknown employers
  • Unknown telephone numbers
  • Other Social Security numbers which may have been linked to your credit report or variations of your SSN
  • Unknown or incorrect public records such as bankruptcies, judgments, or criminal convictions


Example Credit Report Header Information

Report for:  John Q. Public   as of 02/10/2011         Report Confirmation Number:  834597123541
Social Security Number:  123-45-6789

Name: John Q. Public SSN Variations:


Also Known As:   John Public
John A. Public
Jonathon Public
Driver's License Number: FL 12008964
Date of Birth: 09/24/1962

Current Address: 1100 West Elm Street
Anywhere, FL 12345
Date Reported: 05/2009
Previous Address: 123 East 54th Avenue 
Anytown, WI  54321
Date Reported: 07/2006
Current Employer: Small Town Plumbing Anywhere, Florida Date Reported:  05/2009
Previous Employer: 24-Hour Plumbing, LLC Anytown, Wisconsin Date Reported:  03/2006
Public Records:
Type: Judgment
Amount: $1254.00
Reference #: 9830612
Date Reported: 03/06
Plaintiff: Credit Services of Wisconsin Status: Satisified / Paid
Date Reported: 07/2008
Court: Any County District Court, WI

Trade Line Information

A trade line is a reported credit account and the corresponding information for that account, including but not limited to: credit grantor, type of account, loan or amount financed, payment terms, your payment history, etc.

While reviewing your credit report trade lines, you should be especially alert for any unknown accounts, and also any:

  • inaccuracies and/or omissions
  • account balances that vary significantly from your own records
  • incorrect account status (past due, charge-off, etc.)
  • unusual or unrecognized account activity dates (if reported)


Example Credit Report Trade Line Information

ABC Credit Company
123 East Main Street
Anytown, Minnesota 12345

Account Number: 78910XXXXX Current Status: PAYS AS AGREED
Account Owner: Individual Account Credit Limit: $12,500
Type of Account: Revolving High Credit: $9862.50
Term Duration:
Terms Frequency: Monthly
Date Opened: 06/2002 Balance: $6,451.36
Date Reported: 12/2010 Amount Past Due: $0
Date of Last Payment: 12/2010 Date of Last Activity: 10/2010
Scheduled Payment Amount: $198.00 Actual Payment Amount: $198.00
Date of Major Deliquency First Reported:
Months Reviewed: 48
Creditor Classification:
Activity Description: OPEN - Current
Date Closed:


Credit Inquiries

Credit inquiries are typically listed at the end of your credit report, after the trade line information. A credit inquiry appears on your credit report when a current or prospective credit grantor has reviewed your credit file.

A "hard inquiry" results from an actual application for credit or a credit line increase that you initiated, and a large number of hard inquiries can negatively impact your credit score.

In contrast, many companies routinely make pre-screened credit offers based upon specified criteria, and creditors with whom you have an existing account may also periodically review your credit file in consideration of an increase or decrease in your credit line, an increase or reduction in interest rates, etc. These screening and review processes may result in the appearance of "soft" inquiries on your Consumer Disclosure (personal credit report) and do not negatively impact your credit score.

Unusual or unknown credit inquiries, or a large number of inquiries in a short period of time, could be a potential indicator of actual or attempted credit identity theft. In some credit report formats, you may not always be able to easily distinguish between hard inquiries that are the result of actual applications for credit, and soft inquiries that are the result of screening and periodic review processes. However, the name and contact information for the company that made the inquiry should also be included, which you can utilize to follow-up on any unknown or unrecognized inquiries.

Tip:  Because most creditors report to the credit bureaus only once per month, and some only once per quarter, a new account that resulted from a credit inquiry may not appear on your credit report for 30 to 90 days after the initial inquiry was made and the account was opened.

Any of the preceding discrepancies or the appearance of unknown or unrecognized information in your credit report may be a potential sign of actual or attempted credit fraud or identity theft. See Fraud Alerts and Extended Fraud Alerts for additional information. 

This article written and ©Copyright by Michael Barnett. All rights reserved. Published with permission.
Opt Out of Prescreened Credit Offers
Opt Out of Prescreened Credit Offers

Prescreened Credit and Insurance Offers

Potential credit issuers and insurers purchase consumer information from the credit reporting agencies based on sets of specified criteria and then mail offers to these consumers in hopes that they will become a customer. These are known as pre-approved or pre-screened credit and insurance offers.

Convenience checks are another popular method offered by credit card companies to allow the cardholder, or prospective new cardholder, to write a check against an available credit line in order to make a purchase or obtain a cash advance. Many card issuers routinely include one or more pre-printed convenience checks in the monthly statements mailed to their customers, creating a risk of loss or theft because unlike the credit card itself, convenience checks have no signature verification. Few card issuers have any form of activation process for convenience checks prior to use, which means they could be used by anyone in possession of the check. Card issuers typically consider a convenience check transaction as a cash advance, with an interest rate on the advanced amount that is considerably higher than the standard interest rate for credit transactions. Unlike normal credit transactions, which may be interest-free if paid in full before the due date, the interest on the convenience check transaction begins accruing immediately from the date the check is drawn.

What are the Dangers?

The pre-approved (pre-screened) credit offers and convenience checks that most consumers receive each week and perhaps toss into the garbage are like gold to identity thieves.

Dumpster-diving thieves will retrieve these offers and any other personal information that they might be able to obtain from your garbage. They then complete and return the forms, along with a quick change of address, and obtain the convenient credit that you had been offered. The thieves receive the convenience check funds or the new credit card, quickly max out the available credit line in your name, and leave you with the bill and the burden of cleaning up the mess. In a June 15, 1999 article by Edmund Sanders in the L.A. Times entitled "Charges are flying over credit card pitches", it was reported that at that time credit issuers mailed out over 3.4 billion pre-approved credit offers in 1998 alone. This number has increased each year as more and more types of cards are offered, with recent estimates now approaching 10 billion annually. Many consumers regularly throw them into the garbage along with the rest of their junk mail and unwanted solicitations, without understanding the dangers and potential consequences.

How easily can thieves take advantage of these pre-approved offers?

All too easily. To illustrate, the following are two interesting reported cases that illustrate some not-so careful review and processing of pre-approved credit offers by overeager credit grantors:

Example #1: A dog's owner received a pre-approved credit offer in the name of his dog. Thinking the situation to be humorous, he decided to have some fun with it by completing and returning the acceptance form. On the form, the man listed the dog's full name as "Clifford J. Dawg". He wrote that the dog's mother's name was "Pugsy Malone", listed the dog's employer as "The Pupperoni Factory", and provided the dog's Social Security number as "000-00-0000". The man even went so far as to write on the front of the application, "You are sending an application to a dog! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

The result? "Clifford J. Dawg" was issued a platinum card with a credit limit of $1500 accepted worldwide.

Example #2: In a similar, though unrelated case, "Monty the Shih-Tzu" reportedly received a credit line of $24,600.

How You Can Minimize Pre-Approved Credit and Insurance Offers

If you do not wish to receive these types of offers, you can and should elect to opt-out of the pre-approved offers and marketing lists sold by the credit bureaus. To opt-out of these lists, you can visit the "Opt-Out" website established by the credit bureaus, or call the toll free opt-out telephone number.

Option #1 - Use the Opt-Out Website at:  
You can opt-out for a period of five years, or permanently opt-out by mailing in the form that is produced during the online opt-out registration process.

Option #2 - Call the Opt-Out Toll Free Number:  1-888-5-OPT-OUT
One call will temporarily remove your name from the lists of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

Tip:  Within approximately two weeks, you should receive a confirmation letter to complete and return, which confirms that you desire to be permanently removed from these lists. If you fail to return this letter, your name will be returned to the lists. It can generally take 60 to 90 days before you will begin to see a noticeable reduction in the number of credit offers that you receive. However, you will not be able to stop every offer, as not every prospective credit provider uses the lists offered by the credit bureaus. Some companies maintain their own internal lists, and consumer information is also purchased and resold by thousands of companies.

This article written and ©Copyright by Michael Barnett.  All rights reserved. Published with permission
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