Ask Me Anything - Lost Wallet Found and Dubious Credit
Today's batch of reader questions reminds me how complicated our lives have become since the introduction of consumer credit. Some days I long for simpler times so long ago when cash was king and there was no such thing as a billion-dollar consumer credit industry attempting to control our lives.
Dear Mary: A couple months ago, I left my wallet on the bus. I immediately called the bus company and was told the driver had turned it in. When I got it back, I found everything in its place, including my cash. I didn't think any more of it. Now my credit-card statement is two weeks late. Should I be concerned? -- Brian
Dear Brian: Yes, you should be very concerned. With identity theft so prevalent, you should see this as an emergency. First, call your credit card company to learn why your statement is late. While you're on the phone, report the incident. Request a new card, and report your current one as stolen. Verify that your mailing address has not changed.
Your next calls should be to the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285) and TransUnion (800 680-7289). Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert. At that point, all creditors will have to get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. Additionally, request copies of your credit report. Review these carefully to make sure there are no new accounts in your name that you did not authorize.
If you have not already set up online access to your bank and credit card accounts, I suggest you do that right away. Now you can monitor your account every day. Even though I'm fairly confident that nothing is amiss (the mail is often delayed), you are wise to stay on top of things, if for no other reason than to make sure your credit card payment will not be late.
Dear Mary: At a recent job interview, the application included a form asking for permission to obtain my credit report. I was hesitant to sign because I've fallen behind on a number of payments since I was laid off six months ago. Can my bad credit score hamper my chances of getting the job? Is it even legal for potential employers to obtain the report? -- Doug
Dear Doug: Yes, it is legal for prospective employers to request your credit report (not your credit score) as part of the interview process. A credit report has become more than just a list of creditors. It's a kind of character reference. Some employers want to see how a potential employee manages his life. If you are sloppy with your personal affairs, can they expect the same kind of sloppiness on the job?
These days, a credit report shows lots of things other than late payments. If you have a pending civil action or you've been evicted, had a judgment filed against you or had a tax lien imposed on you, all of that can show up. Does a potential employer have a right to know all of that? I guess you'd have to think like an employer to answer that question.
Making sure you keep your credit report as squeaky-clean as possible is beneficial for many reasons. You should get a free copy of your credit reports to see exactly what's on them. If there are negative, albeit true, entries, write up a simple explanation, and have it available should a potential employer, landlord or even insurance agent (yes, they look, too) make a similar request. Sometimes a simple upfront explanation is all that's required to get past that issue.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.