If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Otherwise, if you chase unrealistic results, you can become a victim of fraud. This old adage teaches a simple truth. You should be skeptical of offers you find on the web.

Don’t worry about identity theft. Make a plan for it. Be wary when you find something like:

  • Constant high pressure to act immediately on a sales page.
  • An insanely high return on investment.
  • Weird upfront costs (e.g., the cost of a free prize).
  • A person wants to pay you money, even if you are not selling anything, and expects a refund for the possible overpayment.
  • Blatant misspellings. Not everyone has a strong command of the English language (We sure as hell don’t). However, look for multiple misspellings or obtuse sentence structures that indicate English as a second language.
  • Indications of winning a prize or contact with an influencer.
YouTube video
Video essay on fake contest winnings on social media.

Don’t Get Duped

  • You will not receive money for forwarding chainmail, liking, or sharing any weird content.
  • You cannot win any U.S. lottery without playing.
  • You cannot win any foreign lottery. They are illegal in the U.S.
  • Your bank will never contact you to ask for your account number.
  • Your game client, social media, etc., will never ask you for your password (not by any communication medium). If they need to do something to your account, they can do it anyway since they are the account administrators.
  • Never wire money to people you don’t know.
  • Be very careful about work-at-home job offers. Unfortunately, you have to sift through this crap on job-finding websites.
  • No legitimate jobs involve reshipping items (like SMC or resending letters).
  • No legitimate jobs allow you to run financial instruments from home, especially without financial experience.
Avoid Becoming a Victim of Fraud - Don't Get Duped

Educate Yourself

  • Do not click on a link inside an email. Only do so if you initiated the email (e.g., password reset, new account validation, etc.). If you get a warning email about an online account somewhere, go to the website by typing it in the address bar and see if there are any account alerts. Again, do not click the email link to investigate the warning email.
  • Most credit card providers allow you to set parameters so they can send a text message, email, or even call you if an enormous charge is made to your card. Don’t be afraid to cancel your credit card if your provider is unwilling to work with you.
  • Do not offer too much information about yourself, and do not respond to spam emails.
  • If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a website, check Google website validation. Additionally, some hosting companies offer some validation as well. Also, you can check the company with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Keep your receipts from credit and debit card purchases. Once they clear in your bank account, compare the transactions against the receipts to your online access. Additionally, check your accounts for charges you don’t recognize.
  • Burn or shred sensitive documents instead of simply throwing them in the trash.
  • Check your credit annually by ordering a copy of your credit report from the 3 national credit bureaus (Annual Credit Report).
  • Find your AG at the National Association of Attorneys General.
  • Report fraud received from the U.S. mail to Postal Inspectors.
  • Check out information or file a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Check out information or file a complaint at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Source: IdentityTheft.gov Helps You Report and Recover from Identity Theft

Common Consumer Reporting Agencies To Check For Fraud

Sometimes you take the bait and fall for fraud. Other times, you want to check up on what is reported about you that determines your future. That’s where consumer reporting agencies come in.

Companies turn to consumer reporting companies to learn more about you when deciding whether to provide you with credit, employment, rental housing, or insurance. Three nationwide consumer reporting companies and several others focus on specific markets and consumer groups.

There are a ton of Consumer Reporting Agencies. Check out the List of Consumer Reporting Companies by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for a complete list. We’ll focus on Bank and Check Services and Credit Reporting Services in the rest of this post below.

You will see a few to pay attention to below and some information to help you exercise your legal rights to access your consumer reports and dispute any errors you find. Don’t just sit back. Learn what information is out there about you!

Who Can See Your Consumer Reports?

There are legal restrictions to follow, but consumer reporting agencies can provide consumer reports and risk scores to businesses such as:

  • Banks, credit unions, payment processors, and retail stores.
  • Casinos that extend credit to consumers and/or accept personal checks.
  • Companies that market and sell products and services specifically to lower-income consumers and subprime credit applicants, such as short-term lending and rent-to-own businesses.
  • Debt buyers and collectors.
  • Employers, volunteer organizations, and government agencies for determining eligibility for government assistance (employment screening).
  • Insurance companies (health, life, property insurance screening).
  • Landlords and residential real estate management companies (tenant screening).
  • Lenders (including those offering credit cards, home, payday, personal, title, auto including auto leasing, student loans, security deposit financing, and lease guarantees on home rentals).
  • Retail stores for product return fraud, abuse, and retail stores offering financing, such as appliance and rent-to-own businesses.
  • Utility companies.

You Can Get Rejected Without Warning

Consumer reports hold valuable information about you that companies use to make decisions about your financial future. Besides employment screening, there are typically no warnings before you’re rejected for a loan, rental property, or auto lease.

To avoid this, ensure the accuracy and completeness of your consumer reporting data. Take control of your consumer reports in 3 easy steps:

  1. Request reports from relevant consumer reporting companies.
  2. Thoroughly review reports for errors.
  3. Dispute inaccuracies as needed.

How to Request a Report?

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guarantees every consumer the right to request a free copy of their consumer report every 12 months from all reporting companies. Additionally, you can get a free copy of your information if adverse action is taken against you based on information in your report or under other specific circumstances.

Don’t worry. Requesting your consumer report won’t hurt your credit scores. While some reporting companies may not have information on every consumer, those specializing in insurance claims data are ones to watch out for because they’re less likely to have information about you if you’ve never filed an insurance claim.

However, if you’re making purchases using credit or have delinquent credit that’s being reported on your credit reports by a debt collector, it’s unlikely you’ll be a “credit invisible.”

While some companies charge a fee of up to $12.50 to provide this information, those required to provide it annually for free upon request must do so within 15 days of receiving your request.

You Can Get Your Report From Most Consumer Reporting Companies for Free

Your financial service providers may offer free access to your information, including a risk score for certain companies. These same scores are what they use to manage their credit relationships with you.

Be cautious about jumping into paid credit monitoring, though, as these scores and credit reports may not be the ones lenders use to make decisions about you.

Some companies may require consumer report requests by mail, but most are painless to get your hands on.

You Have the Right to Dispute the Information in Your Reports

Get the facts straight about your credit report. You’re entitled to take action if you spot any incomplete inaccuracies or information.

Your first step? Dispute the error with the consumer reporting company and the organization that provided the mistaken data, like your lender. The good news is that, under the FCRA, you won’t have to pay a dime for thoroughly examining your dispute.

Any company that has shared incorrect information must correct the mistake and alert all consumer reporting companies that have also received the false details. Don’t let a misconception hurt your credit score. If they refuse to help, report it to the CFPB.

Bank and Check Services

Banks and credit unions use check and bank screening reports to help decide whether to offer you a checking account or to cash a check.

Certegy Check Services

Collects check writing histories and provides check screening services primarily for retail merchants and gaming establishments who accept checks as payment. The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it.

  • Link: Certegy
  • Phone: 1-800-237-3826
  • Address: Certegy Check Services Attn: CFDR Request
    P.O. Box 30046
    Tampa, FL 33630-3046

ChexSystems, Inc.

Provides account verification services primarily for financial institutions. Collects and reports data on checking account applications, openings, and closures, including reasons for account closure.

ChexSystems is affiliated with Fidelity National Information Services, Inc. (FNIS).

The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it. A free score will be provided upon request too. A freeze is also available for your consumer report at your request.

  • Link: ChexSystems
  • Phone: 1-800-428-9623 or 1-800-513-7125
  • Address: ChexSystem Attn: Consumer Relations
    7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100
    Woodbury, MN 55125

CrossCheck, Inc.

Provides check verification and guarantee services primarily for automotive sales and repair, building supply, home improvement, retail, medical, dental, and veterinarian industries.

The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it.

  • Link: CrossCheck
  • Phone: 1-800-843-0760
  • Address: CrossCheck Attn: Consumer Inquiry Department
    P.O. Box 6008
    Petaluma, CA 94955-6008

Early Warning Services, LLC

Assists financial institutions and check acceptance companies such as retail merchants, payment processors, and other financial entities in detecting and preventing fraud.

Early Warning is co-owned by Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it.

  • Link: Early Warning
  • Phone: 1-800-325-7775 (Option 4)
  • Address: Early Warning Attn: Consumer Services Department
    16552 North 90th Street
    Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Global Payments Check Services, Inc.

Provides check screening and verification services for various consumer-facing industries.

The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it.

  • Link: Global Payments
  • Phone: 1-800-638-4600 (Option 2)
  • Address: Global Payments Check Services Attn: FACT ACT Support
    P.O. Box 59371
    Chicago, IL 60659

TeleCheck Services, Inc.

Assists retailers, financial institutions, and other businesses in reducing fraud and other risks associated with accepting payments and opening accounts.

TeleCheck is a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Data Corporation.

The company will provide one free report every 12 months if you request it.

  • Link: TeleCheck
  • Phone: 1-800-366-2425
  • Address: Telecheck Services Attn: Consumer Resolution Services
    P. O. Box 6806
    Hagerstown, MD 21741-6806

Credit Reporting Services

Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.

  • Link: Equifax
  • Phone: 1-800-525-6285
  • Address: P.O. Box 740241
    Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian Inc.

  • Link: Experian
  • Phone: 1-888-397-3742
  • Address: P.O. Box 9554
    Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion LLC

  • Link: TransUnion
  • Phone: 1-800-680-7289
  • Address: P.O. Box 2000
    Chester, PA 19022-2000

Innovis

  • Link: Innovis
  • Phone: 1-800-540-2505
  • Address: PO Box 530088
    Atlanta, GA 30353-0088