Sunday, May 8, 2011

Give your mother a gift that's worth something

Maybe your mother isn't an online gamer, but in case your sweet little mom is one of the more than one hundred million people whose personal information was recently hacked, here's how to teach her to protect herself.

You've already told her not to download anything ridiculous like "never before seen pictures of bin Laden's corpse."  If she's on facebook, you've told her not to click on "I won a free iPad and you can, too!" - even if it has a picture of her adorable child next to it.  Now you need to teach her to monitor her credit reports and her credit score, and you love her so much, you'll show her how to do for free.

There's only one place where you can get your credit reports without charge, and it's NOT is where to take your mom.  Each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, must provide her a free copy of your credit report annually, and this is where they do it.  Log your mom on to the website, choose your mother's state of residence in the drop down menu, and hit "Request Report."

Have her complete her name, date of birth, social security number and address, telling her NEVER to release this information to anyone unless: 1) She goes to the website independently (they did not come to her); AND 2) She sees a https: (not http:) in the website address.

Have her check the box under her Social Security number request that all but the last four digits be encrypted,  type the word at the bottom of the form in the box provided, and Send.

Select one of the three consumer reporting agency boxes, and click Next.  Click Next again to continue.  Review the personal information on the credit agency's page, and click Continue.

Have your mom answer the Personal Information questions listed, and hit Continue.  Click Submit Order Now.   On the last page, you can choose to View/Print your report or Create an Account in order to view it for 30 days.   You may wish to choose the former, in order to have a printed copy of her report.

Help her to review the report very carefully, and notify the credit agency immediately if there are any errors.

Since your mom is entitled to only one free copy of your credit report each year from each agency, recommend that she stagger her request by ordering one report every four months.  That way she'll help ensure that no one has stolen her identity and opened unauthorized accounts in her name.

Next, you can show her how to check her free FICO credit score by logging on to  This is her number, based on a statistical analysis of her credit report, that evaluates the relative credit risk she represents to a lender.  The higher her FICO score, the better a credit risk she is, and the lower the interest rate she will pay.  Again, she is entitled to see her FICO score annually, and recommend that she wise so, to monitor her credit and take care of any potential problems quickly.

That's all there is to it.  Tell her you'll help her with the next one in four months and put it on your calendar so you won't forget.

What a great daughter you are.  Your mom should be proud.

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