Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives: Reports Can be Key in Detecting Identity Theft Consumers Should Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports Available March 1

For more information, contact:
Bill Oemichen, President & CEO, 608.258.4400

Wisconsin consumers are encouraged to take advantage of a new federal law allowing them to order a free credit report, beginning March 1. Bill Oemichen, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives (WFC), stressed that routinely reviewing credit reports is a key to detecting identity theft. “You can’t completely control whether you will become a victim, but you can minimize your risk by handling your personal information carefully, and paying close attention to your bank and credit accounts.”

He cited the recent identity theft scam associated with ChoicePoint Inc., a subsidiary of the credit reporting agency Equifax Inc. The corporation has recently come under fire for being duped into giving criminals access to its massive database of personal information. According to press reports, more than 800 Wisconsin residents are among those whose privacy may have been compromised.

“If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report,” says Oemichen. “Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you didn’t initiate or accounts you didn’t open. You also need to see if there are any unexplained debts on the accounts you did open. And you should also verify that information such as your name, Social Security number, address and employer are correct.”

Oemichen, who represented cooperatives on the task force that helped shape Wisconsin’s ground-breaking identify theft law, frequently gives presentations on identify theft prevention. Cooperatives are owned and democratically controlled by their members—consumers who use the co-op’s services or buy its goods. Providing members with education, training and information is among the seven principles that guide cooperatives. Oemichen also served as Wisconsin’s administrator of consumer protection from 1996-2001.

He explained that on or after March 1, consumers can order a free credit report by calling 1-877-322-8228, a toll-free number established jointly by the three nationwide credit-reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Reports can also be ordered via the internet at www.annualcreditreport.com.

“Be sure to carefully type this web address because similar sounding websites will charge you for the credit report,” he said. Consumers may also write for their free credit report by filling out the form at www.ftc.gov/credit and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. “If you don’t want to be charged for the report, use these addresses and do not contact each credit reporting agency separately.”

When ordering a free credit report, consumers will be asked to provide their name, address and social security number, and may also be asked for other specific information. “You may be asked for information that only you would know, in order to ensure you are who you say you are,” Oemichen explained.

According to Oemichen, the National Public Interest Research Group reports that nearly 80 percent of credit reports contain mistakes and fully 25 percent contain serious errors that could cause credit to be denied. “If you find errors, you should report them to the credit-reporting agency in writing,” Oemichen said. “Of course some inaccuracies on your credit reports may be because of computer, clerical, or other errors and may not be a result of identity theft.”

Consumers who do suspect that their personal information has been stolen should immediately place a fraud alert on their credit reports and should close any accounts that have been tamped with or opened fraudulently. Each of three major credit bureaus has a toll-free fraud number: Equifax 1-800-525-6285; Experian 1-888-397-3742; and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.

The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, headquartered in Madison, Wis., is the statewide association involved in lobbying, education, public relations and technical services for a wide variety of cooperatives, including farm supply, health, dairy marketing, consumer, credit, livestock marketing, telephone, electric, housing, insurance, cable communications, worker-owned and more.