Disclosure: This post includes an affiliate link. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.
As someone who’s been there, let me tell you: Identity theft is no fun.
And it’s not just because you suddenly owe money for something you never bought (which already is a pretty serious bummer).
If fraudulent charges go to collections, they can also affect your credit score.
Consider your credit score kind of like an SAT score for your financial life. It’s derived from your credit history — including repayment habits, how long you’ve had credit and how many different kinds of credit you have. Lenders use it to determine your creditworthiness.
In other words, it’s a really, really important number.
Basically, it’s supposed to summarize how well you deal with money.
But just like an SAT score, it doesn’t always offer a full picture — especially when someone’s been tampering with your info.
And because banks and other lenders rely heavily on your score to decide whether or not they should trust you with a car loan or a mortgage, you want them to have as much accurate data as possible. Your credit score has a tangible impact on your life!
While building your score is (ideally) up to you, identity theft can foil your chances — even if you do nothing wrong.
Trust me, this is one scenario you’ll want to take my word for, rather than finding out for yourself.
Credit theft is unfair and unpleasant to deal with…
… but it’s also totally avoidable.
There are tons of tools to help you avoid my fate. And if you know where to look, they’re stupid simple — and totally free.
Where to Get Your Free Credit Score
You might know federal law entitles you to one free credit report per year.
But your annual report doesn’t include your actual credit scores, which are a nice, easy benchmark for figuring out if something’s wrong.
Plus, after your initial report, you’ll have to wait a whole 12 months for another. A lot can happen in a year!
Other “free” credit report websites ask for a credit card before they’ll show you your information — because even though the first glimpse is free, it’s easy for the company to get your money when your card’s already on file.
I ended up spending $30 on a “deluxe report” from a certain well-known “free” credit report site — totally extraneous information — by accident.
The site asks if you want to see your “full score” (misleading at best, since there literally are hundreds of credit scores), and places the “Yes!” button exactly where you’d expect the “No thanks” one to be.
Since the companies already have your information, that click is an expensive mistake — and you have to jump through the hoop of actually calling the company to fix it.
That’s why we love Credit Sesame, which offers a free credit score and report card that’s actually free.
How to Use Credit Sesame to Avoid Identity Theft
Signing up for Credit Sesame is super easy and fast — it only takes a few minutes.
Best of all? No credit card required.
That’s because the company doesn’t make money by gouging you for extras, or even by selling your information or bombarding you with irrelevant ads.
Instead, it uses your credit information to make tailored-to-you suggestions for relevant, actually-helpful products and services. It’ll show you refinancing options if you’re overpaying for a loan, or low-interest rewards credit cards if you’ve got a high score.
Even if you’re pretty sure you’re not a victim of identity theft, it’s worth checking out. I mean, it’s free, and it’s always good to know where you stand… and you might even find a product you could really use.
Once you get set up, the first thing you’ll see is a user-friendly overview of your current credit situation, including a TransUnion score.
Be sure to poke around your entire profile — lots of information is available in here to help you get your credit where you want it to be.
You can even see all the different factors affecting your credit score and how much each factor affects them. Then click through and read expert credit tips.
If you’re concerned about identity theft, you’ll want to head to the “My Finances” tab.
There, you can confirm your credit history. If you see a debt or activity you don’t recognize, something fishy might be going on.
Credit Sesame helps you monitor, manage and protect your credit by sending you alerts about changes to your credit report.
Trust me. If your credit report’s a mess (for any reason), it’s nice that some part of the process is simple.
Have You Been a Victim of Identity Theft?
Credit Sesame is a handy tool to monitor your credit score and report, no matter where you stand.
But if you do discover fraudulence on your report, don’t freak out! It’s possible to fix it… although it may take some time.
When I discovered my identity had been stolen, I was lucky enough to find a website detailing the exact right wording to get the collections agencies off my tail. You can read about that particularly messy chapter of my life here.
My report’s looking much spiffier now — but hopefully, with a watchful eye and free tools, you won’t ever have to know what identity theft feels like.
Your Turn: When’s the last time you checked your credit score?
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Credit Sesame for working with us to bring you this content. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!