This is an excerpt from CNBC Make It's weekly newsletter.
The personal information of tens of millions of T-Mobile customers, including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers, was recently stolen, the company confirmed last week.
Data breaches like this are increasingly common — so much so, that many people just tune them out (I know I have) and move on without checking if they've been affected. And if your information is part of that breach, well, there's not a ton you can do to rectify the situation.
But you can, and should, stay vigilant about potential fraud. And there's a relatively simple — and free — way to check for that and other inaccuracies in your financial record: by pulling your credit report regularly.
There are a few different versions of this financial document, but you'll want to get yours from one of the three main U.S. credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
Luckily, it's never been easier to check. Typically, under federal law, consumers are allowed to pull each report one time per year for free (there are plenty of sources now that can get you a report, though some will charge you). But thanks to a Covid-era law, you can currently check your report from each of those bureaus for free each week until April 20, 2022.
Even if you don't suspect fraud or think there's anything off with your finances, periodically checking your report is a smart move, says Margaret Poe, head of consumer credit education at TransUnion.
"It should just be a step everyday, regular consumers take as part of their overall financial habits," Poe says, noting that it can show all of your loan and credit balances, history of on-time and late payments, credit utilization rate and more. It's essentially a convenient snapshot of everything you owe.
To check your report, head to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site authorized by federal law to provide a report from the three bureaus. Normally, it's not advisable to check all three reports available on that site at once; spreading them out over the year is a safer option so that you're not waiting 12 months to view them again. But since you can pull all of them weekly for free right now, that's less of a concern currently.
What to do if you spot an inaccuracy
Review all of the information on the report you choose and see if there's anything suspicious: say, an open account you don't recognize, or reported late or missed payments you know you made on time.
If there is something wrong, you'll want to report it directly to the bureau. Here's how to do so at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You'll also want to alert the credit company that's reported on the history. If there's a car loan from ABC Bank that you did not open, then you can go directly to ABC Bank to try to fix the problem.
Poe also suggests freezing your credit and placing a fraud alert on your account if you believe you are the victim of identity theft, which you can do on each bureau's website. You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service, which typically comes with a monthly fee, or opt for a credit lock, which is easier to lift than a freeze and is offered by each bureau.
I pulled my Equifax report while writing this article; all told, the process of requesting it and looking for mistakes took me around 15 minutes. Certainly not a big lift, and I feel better about my financial security.
Just note: You do not also get to view your credit score when you pull your report. To view that, you can use a service from a bank or credit card issuer.
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