Keep tabs on your credit

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - August 6, 2005 Read this on Canoe

Recently passed U.S. "fair and accurate credit transactions" legislation requires credit agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report every 12 months to check for inaccuracies and fraudulent activity.

The chief executive of Equifax, one of the major U.S. credit-reporting agencies, said the legislation is unconstitutional and unAmerican. He told reporters his company felt it was wrong to cause a public company that has a fiduciary responsibility to return profit to shareholders to give away the product.

In my view, one solution to reducing identity theft and fraud is to allow consumers frequent no-cost access to their credit reports.

The chief executive's comments were not well received. After all, the market for credit reports is not the individuals themselves but businesses that the individuals seek credit from. One would think a credit report is only as good as it is accurate.

If a credit report shows there have been inquiries from companies to which the consumer has not applied for credit, or information from resources you have not dealt with, it may indicate that someone else is using the person's identity or your credit.

The two Canadian credit agencies -- Equifax and Transunion -- do provide Canadians with free regular access to their credit reports. The individual must request the report in writing, and include proof of identity.

Anyone interested in seeing their credit reports can find out how to do so at the credit agencies' websites at equifax.com/EFX_Canada and tuscores.ca.

Canadian privacy laws require any entity holding personal information to reveal the contents of that information to consumers on request, although they do not say how often. The information must be corrected if an individual points out errors.

Checking our credit reports is just one thing we can do to help stop fraud. Other tips can be found on the Phonebusters website at phonebusters.com. Phonebusters is a joint effort of the RCMP, OPP and the federal Competition Bureau.

Many of the tips are quite simple, including:

* Shred anything containing personal information before discarding it.

* Don't reveal personal information unless you understand how it will be used.

* Don't leave mail where others have access to it.

* Don't give information to anyone unless you initiated contact. Don't give information to anyone calling or e-mailing unless you are certain you know who it is.

And if you get an e-mail, phone call or letter with something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scams claiming you have won money, or that someone needs help with a promise of a large payment, have been rampant for years and people still fall for them. The Phone-busters site contains several examples of common scams.

And there is no harm in taking the time to ask questions and respond later. If the contact is legitimate, they will co-operate to give you contact information and answer whatever questions you have. If they require an immediate response, refuse to provide information, or refuse to give you a way to contact them, the odds are they are not legitimate.