Credit, Credit Monitoring, and Protecting Yourself from ID Theft


December 21, 2017

Given how often the average American shares financial or personal data, it’s not that uncommon for a consumer to discover their information has been compromised. Sometimes it’s a result of a major breach, while other times it could be harder to pinpoint how your information fell into the wrong hands. When this happens, regardless of the cause, you’ll often hear about the possible impact on your credit.

To help you navigate this, we’ve put together FAQs that cover everything from what credit is to how we can work together to keep your personal and financial information safe.

I keep hearing about fraud. How do I prevent myself from becoming a victim?

Unfortunately, fraudsters and identity thieves are becoming increasingly advanced in how they obtain personal and financial information. While nothing is foolproof, there are steps you can take to keep your information as safe as possible. Check out our Security page and our video “Protecting Your Money and Identity” on our WalletWorks page for steps you can take to safeguard your personal and financial information.

I’ve realized or been notified that I’m a victim of fraud or am impacted by a security breach. What should I do?

The steps you need to take depend on what information has been compromised.

If a credit card was compromised, you need to contact the issuer to close the card immediately, then check for, and report, any unauthorized activity.

If a debit card or financial account number was compromised, you need to contact your financial institution immediately to determine next steps.

If your Social Security number was compromised, you’ll want to act quickly and contact a credit reporting company to place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. You will want to confirm that they will alert the other two companies. You can learn more about this process on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

No matter what’s been compromised, you’ll want to be diligent about reviewing and monitoring activity on all your accounts so that you can report any additional fraudulent activity immediately. You’ll also want to set alerts on your accounts, if possible. PSECU members can sign up for free e-Alerts so that they receive an email or text message when activity occurs on their accounts, such as a debit card being used, card limit being increased, or contact information being changed.

It’s important to monitor your accounts and credit not only after a compromise, but on an ongoing basis as well. You should never let down your guard when it comes to protecting your personal and financial information.

What does it mean to monitor my credit?

When we use the phrase “monitoring your credit,” we’re generally referring to two things – your credit score and your credit report.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a three-digit number that tells lenders how likely you are to repay a debt. Your credit score is often used by lenders or potential lenders to determine if they will loan you money, and if so, at what interest rate. Your credit score is generally calculated based on five components: payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit. You can learn more about these components here. Your credit score is calculated from the information in your credit report.

What is a credit report?

Your credit report is a record of your financial history. It includes four main sections – personal information, accounts open/trade lines, public records, and inquiries. You can learn more about the components of a credit report here.

Why should I monitor my credit?

Monitoring your credit is an important part of financial health. Monitoring your credit helps to alert you when someone is using your personal or financial information fraudulently. Warning signs include an unexpected drop in your credit score (i.e. a significant change in your score when you haven’t made any major changes to your finances, such as taking out a new loan or missing payments) and accounts showing up on your credit report that you did not open.

How can I monitor my credit?

Federal law requires each of the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to provide consumers with a free credit report every 12 months, but you have to request it. The only website that is required by federal law to provide these reports is Annual Credit Report. This website does not require payment information. Checking your credit report requires you to enter personal information, such as your name, date of birth, and Social Security number to pull up your file, so make sure you are visiting the correct site, using a secure browser, and connected via a secure wireless network.

Your free credit reports don’t include your credit score. In fact, there’s no law requiring any organizations to provide consumers with their credit scores for free. Some financial institutions, however, have taken it upon themselves to offer this service to consumers. PSECU provides eligible members with their credit score* once a month for free.

Should I pull all three of my credit reports at once?

This is a matter of personal preference. Some people review all their reports at once. Others choose to space them out, checking one every four months, so they can monitor their credit more frequently. No matter what you choose, remember that you are only eligible to receive a free report from each credit reporting bureau once every 12 months.

I have my credit report. Now what?

Once you’ve received a copy of your credit report, do a thorough review of the contents. Make sure everything on the report is accurate – including your personal information, trade lines, and public records. Review all the account information to make sure it’s correct and that it doesn’t show any false payment or balance information. Pay close attention to each of the accounts – make sure there aren’t any that have been opened fraudulently in your name.

If you find errors on your credit report, you’ll need to contact the credit reporting bureau directly to get it corrected. You can learn more about disputing errors on credit reports on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

My credit score dropped significantly and I don’t know why. What should I do?

If your credit score changes significantly and you can’t pinpoint why (an example could be taking out a new loan or missing a payment), it may be a good time to check your credit report. Reviewing your credit report can help you figure out why your score changed and gives you an opportunity to check for fraudulent activity.

If you find errors on your credit report, you’ll need to contact the credit reporting bureau directly to get it corrected. You can learn more about disputing errors on credit reports on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

What does PSECU do to help me protect my credit?

PSECU offers many services that help protect your credit and finances. Members can sign up for free e-Alerts so that they receive an email or text message when activity occurs on their account, such as a debit card being used, card limit being increased, or contact information being changed.

PSECU also provides eligible members with their credit score* once a month for free. This allows members to monitor their credit monthly at no charge.

Check out PSECU’s free credit score service*.

PSECU’s information security staff constantly monitors the latest threats and how to prevent them. We share information with members on our Security page so you can take action to protect your computer and your account.

We want to help you understand the ins and outs of credit and credit reporting so you’re in the best position to protect your identity and your credit. Ultimately, both can have a significant impact on your overall financial well-being.

For more information on how to make the most of your money and protect it, visit our WalletWorks page.

* PSECU is not a credit reporting agency. Members must have PSECU checking or a PSECU loan to be eligible for this service. Joint Owners are not eligible.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal or other professional if you have questions.