The following was written by Sandra Block (covers personal finance for USA TODAY)
Monitoring Credit Reports
Monitoring your credit report is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against identity
theft, an insidious crime that often goes undetected until victims start receiving calls from
collection agencies about fraudulent accounts. Some victims spend months, or even years, trying
to restore their credit.
The easiest way to order your credit reports is through a central Web site set up by the Federal
Trade Commission, www.annualcreditreport.com. You must go through the FTC site to get a free
report; if you order directly through the credit bureaus' Web sites, you'll have to pay for your
You also can order your credit reports through a toll-free number, 877-322-8228, or by writing:
Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
When you request your reports, you'll be asked to provide your name, address, Social Security
number and date of birth. The credit bureaus also may ask you for specific identifying information,
such as the amount of your monthly mortgage payment.
You can order all three of your credit reports at once, or stagger them over several months.
Spreading them out allows you to check changes in your credit report over time, says Evan
Hendricks, author of Credit Scores and Credit Reports: How the System Really Works.
However, if you plan to apply for a mortgage or car loan in the next few weeks, you may want to
order all three credit reports at once, he says. That way, you can correct any errors before you
apply for a loan.
In either case, order all three reports, Hendricks says. Some lenders report information to just one
or two of the credit reporting agencies, so ordering all three reports is the only way to get a
complete picture of your credit profile.
Deciphering your reports
Once you've obtained your reports, you should review them carefully for trouble spots that could
hurt your ability to obtain