Date credit report com by alicejenny


									MARCH 31, 2006

Five for the Money
By Sonja Ryst

                     A Roving Eye on Your Credit
Americans living abroad can have a tough time accessing their credit histories.
Here are some ways around the hurdles

The Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) now gives everyone
with U.S. credit access to free annual reports. But if those U.S. citizens or legal
aliens happen to be on an extended stay abroad, they might have a tough time.

Scott Overfield is a case in point. Ever since he detected some fraudulent
charges on his credit card account in August, 2003, he has been careful to do
whatever he can to protect himself from identity theft.

When he was living in California last year, Overfield exercised his right under
FACTA to obtain a free annual credit report and make sure he agreed with the
history in it. He did so by requesting his report online at, and had no problems submitting his information to
the Web site, which is maintained by the credit bureaus Equifax (EFX),
Experian, and TransUnion.

DISTANT STRUGGLE. But now Overfield lives in Britain. A couple of
months ago, he tried to access again from his current
home, and all he got was an error message. He ended up surfing to
TransUnion's Web site instead and paying them $29.95 to provide him with his
credit reports (see BW Online,1/10/2006, "The Booming Biz of ID Protection").
Only afterward did Overfield find out that he might have gotten through to if he had tried from a computer at a military base
instead of from his residence.

Overfield could have had it worse. Expatriates who try to obtain credit reports
sometimes face delays. In fact, they might have to struggle to get their reports at
all if their only address is overseas.

Joel Winston, associate director in the FTC's Privacy & Identity Protection
division in Washington, D.C, which oversees the federal government's
consumer-protection efforts, says his group has gotten calls from people
overseas who were having trouble accessing their U.S. credit history. He says it
doesn't happen frequently, but it's an issue.

USA IP. People all over the U.S. have had access to free annual credit reports
since at least September, 2005, after FACTA's enactment laid the groundwork in
December, 2003. Sandra Farrington, an attorney in the Privacy & Identity
Protection division, says lawmakers who voted for FACTA wanted to provide
consumers with free access to their credit reports for various reasons. They
thought it would help efforts to crack down on identity theft, give people a
chance to protest inaccuracies in their credit history, and improve consumers'
financial literacy, she says.

But that's not as easy to accomplish from abroad. For example, the credit
bureaus that maintain only open the Web site to U.S.
IP addresses -- in other words, computers that contain numeric code identifying
them as from the U.S. That's why Overfield could use the site at a military base
in Britain but not from his home.

"The number one reason [restrictions on foreign access] exist is to protect
individuals' information" from being stolen overseas, says Steven Katz, a
spokesman at TransUnion. In a follow up e-mail, he added that TransUnion
recognizes the importance of being able to access your own personal credit
information in a timely manner, regardless of your geographic location.

HIDDEN CHARGES. Of course, isn't your only
source for information about your credit history. You might have access to other
credit report services, but the Federal Trade Commission says is the only one it authorizes. And other services can
be tricky to use.

Some might sign you up for a "free" service that ends up costing you., doing business as Experian Consumer Direct, settled
charges in August that it deceptively marketed "free credit reports" by not
adequately disclosing that consumers would be signed up for a credit report
monitoring service and charged $79.95 unless they canceled within 30 days.

Online scammers known as phishers have also put up their own fake credit-
report sites in recent years, as a way to get people's social-security numbers,
addresses, and other personal information. (Click here for the FTC's advice on
how to protect yourself from phishing.)

So what can expatriates -- or those traveling for an extended period outside the
U.S. -- do to protect their stateside credit history? This Five for the Money
offers five tips to help counter the challenges Americans face in monitoring
their U.S. credit history outside the nation's borders.

1. Keep an active U.S. address
While you can usually request a credit report from the bureaus by mail, it isn't
always a cinch. (Click here for an application and directions on how to submit
your request.)

The credit bureaus maintain U.S. addresses in their records of U.S. credit, but
they don't recognize the foreign addresses of people who have U.S. credit cards
or other accounts. If you don't have a U.S. address that matches your name,
social-security number and U.S. credit history, the credit bureaus won't mail
you a report without additional verification of your identity.

People who don't have U.S. addresses can notify their creditors to send U.S.
credit bills to a friend in the States. Once your file registers that your friend's
U.S. address is officially yours, the credit bureaus will mail your history to your
friend when you want. But your friend will have to forward everything to you

"We have found it hard [to get credit-history problems straightened out] for
consumers who live abroad and don't have a U.S. address for mail," says Linda
Foley, co-founder of the San Diego-based nonprofit Identity Theft Resource

2. Mail your request express
The Identity Theft Resource Center says expatriates concerned about fraud
should contact the nearest U.S. embassy, so they can file paperwork about the
incident with the U.S. State Dept. The idea is to create a documentation trail
about the crime, says Jay Foley, who founded the Identity Theft Resource
Center with Linda.

"The longer you wait to report it and deal with it, the less likely" your
statements will be accepted, he warns. He recommends that identity-theft
victims who don't have U.S. addresses mail their documentation with an
international postal service like United Parcel Service (UPS) or FedEx (FDX).
Make sure you track the mailing and get confirmation of the delivery, he adds.

3. Include extra information
If you have a home address in the U.S. and continue paying bills to maintain it,
you might want to include a copy of a bill when you mail your request for a
credit report. The credit bureaus "need to insure that they're sending [the credit
report] to the right person," says the FTC's Farrington. "You need to make sure
you can demonstrate that" from overseas.

4. Freeze credit before you go
Some states have laws that enable you to make the credit bureaus lock the
information in your file with a password, in an effort to make it more
challenging for criminals to access the information. It can take a few days to
finish the process of removing the lock in some states.

These "credit-freeze" laws vary widely by state and don't exist in all of them
(click here to get the specifics about yours). But Foley recommends freezing
your credit history if you can before you go overseas.

5. Get help from the U.S. consulate
Angela Aggeler, a spokesperson at the Consular Affairs Bureau in Washington,
D.C., says citizens can turn to their consulates to cope with identity theft that
arises overseas. If you lose a wallet or handbag while abroad, the consulates
will help you cancel your credit cards and contact the Social Security
Administration about the loss of identification. You can also have friends send
important documents to the embassy.

Whether you're a bona fide expat, or only on an extended jaunt outside the U.S.,
a little vigilance will help keep your credit report in good shape.
Ryst is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York


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