INDIANAPOLIS — Credit agencies recently extended a pandemic-era rule that makes it easier to access your credit reports, an option Hoosiers should take advantage of due to rising levels of identity theft complaints.
By the time Joyce Miller realized someone had stolen her identity a year ago, they had already charged thousands of dollars at major retailers and drained her checking account.
“It just shook me to my core,” Miller said. “It’s something I would not wish on anyone.”
Miller spent months disputing the charges and working to repair the damage. Her credit score dropped by more than 200 points, making it difficult for her to purchase a new home.
“It just amazed me the things that were allowed to be done (by identity thieves) and how easy apparently it is,” Miller said.
According to data compiled by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, identity theft complaints have skyrocketed in the past six months, going from 200 reports between June and October 2020, to nearly 2,500 between November 2020 and March 2021.
Director of Consumer Protection Scott Barnhart pointed to the federal government’s influx of cash for things like stimulus payments and a rise in unemployment fraud as the likely reason for the sharp increase.
“Scammers follow the money,” Barnhart said.
Luckily, there’s something you can do about it. During the pandemic, the three major credit bureaus went from providing one free credit report a year to one free credit report a week. Weekly access was recently extended until at least April 2022.
Barnhart suggested you take advantage of the extra access and check your credit report frequently for anything out of the ordinary.
“You’re looking for … any recent history that you’re not aware of, has anybody applied for credit?” Barnhart said.
You can take it a step further by freezing your credit with each agency. You’ll need to unfreeze it to apply for any new credit of your own, but that option has become quicker and easier as technology improves.
The CBS4 Problem Solvers team found it easy to set up online accounts with all three agencies: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You can log into those accounts to access your reports and freeze or unfreeze your credit. While the companies do offer additional paid services, you can access your report and freeze and unfreeze your credit free of charge.
Miller and Barnhart agreed that it’s more important than ever to keep a close eye on your credit, in hopes you’ll catch any issues or prevent them from happening in the first place.
“It’s so much easier to take preventative steps than to fix the problem later,” Barnhart said.
“Once it starts spiraling … it’s hard to control it,” Miller said.
You can request free credit reports in one location by visiting annualcreditreport.com or visit each company’s website individually.
If you prefer not to open online accounts, you can call each credit agency by phone. Below you’ll find contact information, provided by the FTC: