Protect Your Credit

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Does applying for a lot of credit cards put you at risk? No not really. You may have just one credit card or none at all, and still become an identity theft victim (seriously, that’s what millions of North Carolinians found out during a recent attack on the State Revenue Service Department).

However, it is true that applying for a lot of credit cards might increase your, or should I say your identity’s attractiveness for the thieves. It is a serious problem, but you can deal with this by doing your due diligence, not going into a panic mode.

Here are the excerpts from my book Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Travel the World for Free about the ways you can protect yourself. And it’s easy too.

There’s an entire industry dedicated to protecting you from identity theft—or at least to notifying you immediately when suspicious activity appears on your credit file. The faster you react to identity theft, the less likely you are to get hit hard and be stuck with the bill.

My Fico Products

My Fico is one of the very few monitoring services that pulls true FICO scores (see FICO vs FAKO below) from Equifax and Transunion. Their products range from $5 to $50 a month, including so-called ID Freeze that claims to be able to help “stop identity theft before it begins.”  They also have a very lively Fico Forum.

Here are some others:

USAA-CCMP (Experian)

Equifax Complete Advantage Plan

TransUnion Credit Management and Protection

Identity Guard

Freescore (It’s not really free.)

True Credit

ID Theft Smart

If you decide the monthly fees for those services are too rich for your blood (again, they could cost you from $5 to $50 a month depending on the level of protection), there are free or low-cost solutions, as well.

Credit Karma

Credit Karma checks only Transunion scores so their service is limited, but it is the only free monitoring solution that I know of. Like almost every other monitoring service, including paid ones, they don’t provide you with a true FICO score, but rather their estimated FAKO score. FAKO scores can be very close to true FICO scores, but they can also be considerably off.

Credit Sesame (now offers free credit monitoring)

Credit Sesame draws information from Experian. It does not monitor your credit activity, but it does provide you with your monthly credit score, as well as a complete picture of your debts and accounts. It may not seem good enough, but at the very least, if your score drops 100 points in a month, you’ll know something’s up. Unlike Credit Karma, you only get this report once a month, not whenever you want.

Quizzle

Quizzle also uses Experian. Even so, their scores can be and usually are very different from the score Credit Sesame reports. This service is free, but only allows you one update every six months.

The good news is you don’t have to choose one over another. Since all three services are priced exactly right (free), just get and use them all. Of course, if you want a better protection, consider signing up for a paid solution.

DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union)

DCU provides its members with a free monthly FICO score from Equifax. In order to qualify for a free monthly FICO score, you need to qualify for at least Checking Plus account. Here is how to qualify (per their website):

  1. “Direct deposit your net pay, Social Security, or pension to your checking account.
  2. Receive all your DCU statements electronically.
  3. Have an active loan with DCU (such as a DCU Visa Credit Card).”

If you don’t (or don’t want to) qualify “on merits” so to speak, you can still open and use their Checking Plus account for $5 a month.

M&T Bank
M&T Bank will update your true FICO score from Equifax monthly for $2.99 a month.

Walmart GEMB Discover & Store

Remember when I told you that there are rare breeds of credit cards worth having even though they offer little or no sign-up bonuses? This card is one of them. With no annual fee, members receive a monthly true FICO update from Transunion. The 5% gas rebate until the end of 2012 is just icing on the cake.

PSECU (Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union)  

Highly rated Credit Union that also provides you with a real FICO number. Unfortunately, you can’t  become a member if you or your relatives do not reside in Pennsylvania.

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