Checking your credit report is a cornerstone of preventing and detecting identity theft. There are literally hundreds of websites out there who offer to give you access to all three reports, plus your credit score.
Checking your own credit report doesn’t harm your score no matter how many times you do it. Unscrupulous “credit repair” agencies might tell you otherwise, but checking your credit has no impact on your score whatsoever. The factors here are how often you need to do it and how much you’re going to spend.
If you’re at a reasonably low risk for identity theft—you use online statements so there’s no mail to steal, your wallet hasn’t been lost or stolen, your computer is as protected as you can make it and you are stingy with your information—then you might be able to get away with one credit check per year. If that’s the case, the site the government endorses is annualcreditreport.com. It is literally the only credit report site that actually lets you check your credit for free (but only once per year). It will also show you all three reports at once, and has forms in place so you can dispute information, directly, online, saving you a lot of time and headache.
If you’re at a higher risk for ID theft, however, or you’ve even had problems with it in the past, you either need to check that report monthly…or know every single time something changes on it. To that end the subscription credit report services that also offer credit score monitoring might be your best bet. You’ll not only get to see what happens, but changes will get posted to your e-mail inbox.
If you’ve been absolutely exposed recently—if, for example, you lost your wallet—then it’s time to take more stringent measures. You’ll want to partner up with an id theft protection service, that will combine credit monitoring with other forms of protection. This is in addition to all of the other measures you’ll want to take, such as adding fraud alerts to your credit files, shutting down or changing information on exposed accounts, and filing a report with law enforcement.
Shop around so you get the most services for the best deal, whatever route you choose. You don’t want to pay too much for these services, but you don’t want to sell yourself short, either. Get the protection and level of alert that you need to keep you, your home, and your family safe from the sometimes nightmarish consequences of identity theft.