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I always thought I was pretty savvy. I don’t give out personal information to cold callers, I never respond to emails from Nigerian Princes, and I don’t answer texts saying my bank account has been hacked. Growing up in LA in the latter part of the 20th century, I’d like to think I’m pretty street smart. Trust no one. That’s pretty much my motto.
I’m also chronically responsible. My credit score has been building since I was 18 and got my first checking account. Back in the day, I’d check my credit score once every several years. It involved ordering it in the mail back then, there were no websites for such a thing.
As technology progressed, so did criminals. I learned to shred my documents instead of tearing credit card offers in half and tossing them. What kind of deterrent did I really think a torn page would be to a thief with a color copier?
Then, smart phones came and sh*t got real. There are endless scams constantly coming from email, phone and text. Always someone trying to send just the right email that fools you into clicking a link to get a smidgen of information they can exploit. You make one mistake, and they have you. They may have installed malware on your phone or computer, compromised your data, or perhaps even managed to install a keystroke logger. With hackers, the possibilities are endless.
Knowing all of these things, and diligently shredding and protecting my information kept me safe for a long time. Then, I became a Mom.
When you’re a Mom, all the little things you remembered to do before you had a 24/7 live Tamagotchi become much harder to keep track of. You may be going through bills and while you’d normally toss a credit card application straight into the shredder, you child chooses that moment to have blowout, and, distracted, you toss it in the trash instead.
Perhaps you’re at swimming lessons watching your Little float in the pool with the instructor. You take a precious moment to check email and your kiddo yells Mom! Mom! Mom! Look! Distracted, and halfway through a concerning email, you click the link for more information on why your Social Security number has been suspended (Spoiler Alert: It has never been suspended. Ever.) and then you put your phone away cause lessons are over and a sopping wet child is barreling toward you with swim-boogers coming out of their nose.
There are a million distractions when you’re a parent. A. Million. I know this because I’ve gotten in my car for work only to have my husband chase after me to point out I don’t have any shoes on. But what about the times my husband can’t have my back and tell me what I’ve forgotten?
My Credit Story
Several years ago, I went to buy a car. It was time and back then I decided I wanted something bluer. As I mentioned before, I am obsessively responsible, likely a product of eldest child syndrome. I pay my bills on time, and I know, even without seeing the scores that I have great credit. So, imagine my surprise when the salesman came out and told me there was a problem with my score. I thought he was messing with me. I tend to joke around with people, so I figured he was just feeling my vibe.
Narrator: He was not feeling her vibe.
The salesman showed me the report he printed out and it had a dismal score. I promptly lost my sh*t in the middle of the Infiniti showroom. I’m still not welcome back.
The offending report showed an individual using my name had rented an apartment and gotten credit cards using my identity.
What. The. Frack?
Side note: How dumb is it to get an apartment with stolen identity? The cops literally know exactly where to find you.
Related Post: Next time you’re barreling out of the house barefoot like me, make sure you have these 5 work blouses in your closet. At least your top will be cute.
I won’t go into what it took to get it resolved. It’s a long story, but in the end my credit was restored and I got my new blue car. Most importantly, I learned the value of credit monitoring that day. Had I caught it sooner, I would have had a far easier time fixing the damage done and I wouldn’t have had a meltdown in the front seat of a showroom vehicle.
It’s highly likely my Mom brain was distracted at some point and I accidentally threw away some papers that I should have shredded. Whether they were taken by dumpster divers targeting our neighborhood, or individuals searching for documents at the dump, I’ll never know.
After that incident, I signed up for a myFICO plan. Honestly, the only reason I chose it was because my brother was in banking, and he often referred to FICO scores. I can’t remember what the monthly fee was back then, it’s honestly very reasonable for what you get, and it has given me a level of ease I could never have if I just relied on myself to check the report annually. A lot can happen in a year.
With a myFICO plan, you get proactive credit monitoring that alerts you when there is a score change. Depending on the plan you’re on, you can get tons of customized alerts like balance and address changes as well as credit inquiries.
A friend of mine, we’ll call him Jason, also went to buy a car. His credit report should have been pristine, but it was rubbish. Why? Get this, one of the credit bureaus actually made a mistake! His report showed two social security numbers, one for him, and one for another person with the same exact name. Unfortunately, the other dude didn’t pay his bills and as a result, Jason’s credit was jacked.
In that instance, there was absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent his credit snafu. All the document shredding and email deleting in the world couldn’t have stopped a clerical error. It was resolved eventually, but the car he was trying to purchase was long gone before he could buy it. Imagine if that happened to you when you were trying to buy a house. Most sellers aren’t gonna wait months for you to get your credit in order. Credit monitoring would have alerted Jason to the changes in his score and new accounts.
The ‘Free Credit Report’
So you’re probably thinking you can get free credit reports online, why get myFICO? Excellent question. The law entitles you to one credit report every 12 months. That’s a report, not a score. In other words, you’ll see, once every 12 months, what your credit report looks like, but you won’t get your credit scores from the three bureaus. For the scores, the real info you need if you’re going to be making a purchase, you will need to pay. Oh, and they will charge you for each one individually, or more for all three. Meanwhile, you’re not getting any proactive monitoring in the 12 months in between reports. Yikes!
I have been super happy with myFICO for years now because I can pull my three bureau scores whenever I want. They change, and if I was so inclined I could get them every month. That would cost a fortune if I wanted to buy them separately and I’d have to enter personal information on the internet each time. With a myFICO plan, I just log on.
The real time monitoring that allows me to get ahead of fraud and lock down my credit reports at the first sign of trouble is what I’m really paying for though. That’s what lets me relax and make a purchase or apply for credit without worrying I’ll get declined because some jackhole in Kenosha decided she wanted a new flat screen and used my name to get it.
Bonus, if identity theft does happen, myFICO provides up to $1 million in identity theft insurance. I mean, if someone was able to get a million bucks of credit off my social security number then there are bigger problems with the system, but just in case, I’m covered.
As Moms we don’t have time for extra drama and irritations, so I highly recommend you consider a credit monitoring service, and because myFICO is the one I’ve used, it’s the one I recommend.