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Identity Theft ? Monitor Your Credit Report

The recent security breach at credit card processor CardSystems Solutions has many consumers worried. Thanks to a well-placed computer virus, nearly forty million credit card numbers were stolen, and cardholders nationwide are justifiably concerned about identity theft. Should a thief steal your identity, he or she could run up thousands of dollars worth of debt in your name and it could take years to sort out the ensuing financial mess.

Fortunately, a relatively new tool is available to consumers to help alert them to potential fraudulent activity on their credit record. Each of the three main credit bureaus offer a subscription-based credit monitoring program, as do numerous banks and financial institutions. Fees vary, but $50 or so per year is typical. The bureaus will notify consumers of activity conducted under their names, including the opening of new accounts, changes of address, credit inquiries from lenders, late payments and lawsuits and liens. Notification can come in the form of e-mail or even a message to your cell phone, if you like.

Should you be notified of suspicious activity, you can then call the appropriate agency, be it a lender, the credit bureau itself or the police, if necessary. The packages vary in both prices and features, so interested consumers should shop around to find a plan that works to fit their needs.

A free alternative is to obtain a free credit report. Thanks to a law passed last year, Americans can obtain one free report from each of the three credit bureaus per year through a special Website. By obtaining one report every four months, consumers can keep an eye on activity under their name for free. This is not nearly as effective as subscribing to a monitoring plan, which will notify you when activity takes place, but it is better than doing nothing at all. With the recent security breaches by major credit card processors, consumers who are worried about being victims of identity theft have genuine concerns. The credit bureaus are doing what they can to help, and the monitoring programs and free credit reports are a step in the right direction.

┬ęCopyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including End-Your-Debt.com, a site devoted to debt consolidation and credit counseling, and HomeEquityHelp.com, a site devoted to information regarding mortgages and home equity lending.

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