By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With the recent rash of data breaches, most consumers are checking their credit report more regularly.  In fact 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan can’t pass up an opportunity to remind people to check theirs!  But do you know what to do if you find a mistake?   Well Jim does, and breaks things down for us.

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without hearing of new data breaches and identity fraud.  So many are watching their financial information a little more closely.  Once an identity thief has pieces of personal data like a Social Security number, they can use that information to open accounts.  Often that may go unnoticed until fraudulent charges appear on a credit report, or when you apply for a loan.

By federal law, Americans are entitled to a free copy of their credit report from each of the three big reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – once every 12 months.  Experts recommend staggering those three reports over the course of the year.

If you find errors or accounts that don’t appear to be yours, the Federal Trade Commission advises contacting the credit reporting bureau in writing.  Include copies of any documents that support your case.  The bureaus are required to investigate unless the claim is found frivolous and they’re required to give you an answer in writing.   Make a similar written dispute to the creditor who reported the bill or charge in question.  The process can take between 30 and 90 days.

Negative information, like high balances and unpaid bills, when accurate, usually stays on a credit report for seven years.  If you file for bankruptcy, that information stays for ten years, which can really affect your credit if you’re shopping for a car or a home.

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