8.27.2020

Philippines Expat Guide To Credit & Identity Protection

Philippines Expat Guide To Credit & Identity Protection



credit card bill


Table Of Contents:


Free Annual Credit Report 


Whether or not you are planning to move abroad or not you should be monitoring your credit. Fortunately it is becoming easier to keep track of your credit and credit score due to the proliferation of services that allow you to do that and many of them are free.

If you are not already doing so, then you should be requesting a copy of your free annual credit report from the big three credit agencies. You can get that same link directly from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As the name states, you are entitled under federal law to receive one free report once annually.

Fraud Alerts (To Protect Your Credit) 


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) outlines some special circumstances that also allow you to gain access to free credit reports, such as Fraud Alerts and Credit Freeze:


The Initial Fraud Alert used to be only 90 days, but a new law passed in 2018 bumps that up to one year. If you Place a Fraud Alert with one of the credit bureaus they will in turn contact the other bureaus on your behalf. A Credit/Security Freeze is different. You must contact each credit bureau individually in order to place a Security Freeze.

Contacting the Credit Bureaus:


Depending upon your circumstance, you may have issues with any one or all of the credit bureaus in relation to accessing your report online. 

When you contact a credit bureau they will ask you for personal data and details for existing credit/bank accounts in order to confirm your identity.

If you have been living overseas the credit bureaus may need for you to contact them by post mail and or by telephone to further confirm your identity. 

They still may not be able to allow you online access. It has been my experience that Transunion is the most accommodating of the three.

Contact info for the credit bureaus: 



Credit Monitoring


TransUnion's True Identity Service 


True Identity allows you to view and lock your credit report for free. True Identity will also send you instant SMS updates when there are new requests for credit in your name. Transunion also provides $25,000 in ID theft insurance at the free level.

I can confirm that the Transunion credit report that you get from True Identity does have all of the right data and it is up to date, at least in my case.

You must upgrade to a paid membership with True Identity to gain access to your other two credit reports and to see to your credit score. A paid subscription will also give you the ability to monitor your ID on the black market. A aid subscription also expands ID theft insurance to $1,000,000.

Experian Credit Monitoring Service 


Experian's credit monitoring service will give you your FICO 8 score for free. The FICO 8 score is the same score that True Identity uses.

Upgrading to a paid membership with Experian gives you access to credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus. Paid membership also allows you to lock your Experian credit report and receive alerts (Transunion provides this service for free). You also receive $1,000,000 ID theft insurance at the paid level.

The credit locking service offered by Experian is only available if you upgrade, unlike True Identity's Credit Lock. However, you can take advantage of the Experian Security Freeze that they are required to provide for free.

Experian CreditLock vs. Standard Security Freeze:

  • A security freeze requires that you enter a PIN code and verify your identity every time you want to change the status.
  • A security freeze does not include monitoring or alerts of attempted credit inquiries the way Experian CreditLock does.
  • Experian CreditLock allows you to block access to your credit file and you can lock and unlock your file easily and quickly.
  • Experian CreditLock includes daily monitoring and attempted inquiry alerts if someone applies for credit while your File is locked. Keep in mind that the lock only applies to that particular company's respective report.

Equifax Credit Monitoring Service


I have never been able to get the Equifax credit monitoring service free accounts to work for me.

Lock & Alert and Freeze & Fraud Alerts are free options. Additional services require a paid subscription.

Summary Of Credit Bureau Credit Monitoring Services


I can see no reason to pay for credit monitoring.Your experience may be different, but everything that I need to do with credit monitoring I can do for free:
  • monitor credit report and attempts to gain a credit account in my name and
  • monitor my credit score (Experian is the only one that offers it for free*) 
  • place fraud alerts on my report for a year at a time or
  • place a freeze on my report shutting down all attempts to get credit in my name (almost)
 

Security Freeze Update 

 
I recently did some research into removing my personal data from the sites all over the web that sell it and spread it. You may already know that there are scores and perhaps hundreds of personal data brokering websites. You need to contact each one of them individually to have your information removed. You can take a big bite out of the task by hitting the big ones as laid out in these instructions.

These sites get your personal data from the credit bureaus and the credit bureaus cannot see into your life abroad, so your data trail ends at the airport you flew out of stateside.

Is there a way to block block data brokers from picking up your trail when you return? Maybe.

Ideally, a security freeze should keep unwanted data brokers out of my credit files. This may not always be the case:
Can prospective employers, insurance companies and service providers (such as cellular phone companies) still access my report if it is frozen?
 
Federal law does not require the freeze to keep out non-credit-granting individuals and companies, but the credit bureau might have a policy of doing so. Plan ahead to lift the freeze, if necessary. 
And from the same article:
Your information also may still be used for the purposes of prescreening for pre-approved offers of credit or insurance even if a security freeze is on the report. A freeze may or may not keep out landlords, employers, insurance companies, wireless service providers and others, depending on credit bureau policy.
A great many entities still have the power to get their hands on my data even with a freeze. Can I be sure that none of them will sell my information to the very data brokers that I am trying to thwart? Maybe the only person I am inconveniencing with a security freeze is myself.

At any rate, a freeze is supposedly a stronger tool than a fraud alert for preventing thieves from opening new lines of credit in your name.

Section 301 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act extended the fraud alert effective period from 90 days to one year. That same section also made placing, lifting and removing a security freeze free of charge. 

As stated previously, you must request a freeze with each bureau. This stands in contrast to the process of placing a fraud alert that will propagate to the other two bureaus when you request an alert with any one bureau. When you request a security freeze by mail it takes three days to implement (from the time they receive the request). If you call each bureau, then the credit bureau must implement the freeze within an hour.

What a credit freeze can do: 
  • provide greater protection against thieves opening NEW accounts
vs. what a freeze cannot do: 
  • prevent thieves from draining my bank account
  • prevent thieves from running up my existing credit cards
  • guarantee that data brokers will not get my data

     

    Free Credit Monitoring Options From Banks 


    Experian is the only credit bureau to give you free access to your credit score, but there are other ways to get it for free. 

    Maybe the US bank that you are using right now offers free credit monitoring and credit score.

    Capital One provides a free service called CreditWise that allows you to monitor your Transunion credit report and VantageScore 3.0. The VantageScore 3.0 is based upon a different model from the FICO score. The VantageScore 3.0 could be, for instance, 60 points lower than the FICO 9 score.

    CreditWise recently began offering three new services:
    • Social Security number tracking: tracking instances where someone attempts to use your Social Security number to apply for credit
    • Dark web monitoring for pieces of your personal information turning up on the dark web and
    • Alerts for new account attempts from both Transunion and Experian 
    It is possible for anyone to sign up for True Identity CreditWise whether or not they are a Capital One account holder, but you might be better served by signing up for True Identity (above) instead.

    If you do have existing accounts with Capital One, then you can use your login credentials for those accounts to sign in to CreditWise.

    Wells Fargo and Penfed both provide Experian FICO 9 credit score tracking to their customers free of charge. 



    US Government Websites That May Help Protect Your Credit & Identity






    The Internal Revenue Service


    If you want to see your current tax account, then you can create a personal account on the IRS website:
      
    create an online IRS account to manage your taxes


    If you're an individual taxpayer, you can use this tool to view:
    • Your payoff amount, updated for the current calendar day
    • The balance for each tax year for which you owe
    • Up to 24 months of your payment history
    • Key information from your current tax year return as originally filed.
    Once you have viewed your information, you can:
    • Select an electronic payment option
    • Go directly to Get Transcript without having to log in again 
    After you click the link to create an account, at some point before you enter your personal information you will be informed exactly what you need to prepare in order to register for an account:


    personal information needed for IRS online account


    credit information needed for IRS online account


    US mobile phone needed for IRS online account

    The last screen is where a lot of expats will have an issue. Many expats may not maintain a US based text capable phone. And Google Voice and other “virtual” options are not accepted. You must use a cell phone number that is connected to a monthly billing account that will show up on your credit report under your name.

    You can receive your IRS tax transcripts online or by postal mail.

    You can view your historical tax transcripts online if you already signed up in the previous step or you can sign up now:


    get your IRS tax transcripts onlinie

    Or receive your tax transcripts via post mail:


    get your IRS tax transcripts via snail mail

    A transcript viewing account has the same sign up requirements as the current tax account, but again, if you already signed up for the current tax account you should be good to go.

    For me the road block is the SMS capable US based mobile phone “with your name on the account,” as I am sure it is for many other expats.

    The Social Security Administration


    Sign up for an account on the Social Security Administration website to view your Social Security Statement and contribution history.

    The Social Security website used to require that account holders possess an SMS capable phone for 2-step authentication, but that has been made optional.

    They can send the code to your email address if you prefer.     


    My Social Security online account actions

    With your “my Social Security” account you can:
    • View your Estimated Benefit
    • View your Earnings Record
    • Print your current Social Security statement
    • Get a Benefit Verification Letter
    • Request a replacement Social Security Card 
    Viewing your earnings record is vital to making sure that no one else is using your SS number.

    E-Verify 


    You can use E-Verify to lock your Social Security number making it impossible for anyone to use your number when applying for work with employers who use E-Verify. You can also view the history and current use (if any) of your number. The down side is that only about 20% of US employers use E-Verify, as it is not required.


    I was able to get in, lock my number and view the history.

    This graphic from the E-Verify website shows what an individual can do with their account:


    My E-Verify online account features

    In the course of signing in to the system I was prompted to input personal and contact information. I had done this last year, but E-Verify has been upgraded and my old account needed to be reassessed.

    As part of the upgraded security a soft pull on my credit report was initiated in order to confirm my identity, which is good. After that I was taken to my account showing these choices:


    My E-Verify online account options

    E-Verify could be a good tool to add to your identity protection portfolio. The self lock and case history features are the tools that make it valuable to me, but they would be a lot more valuable if all employers were required to use E-Verify. After 14 months I was sent an email that self lock had expired.

    Many times I was not able to logon to E-Verify, including just now. It is midnight in the US, so maybe the server is down for maintenance/updates.

    I did not see any notification about it, but some government sites cannot be accessed over the weekend or at night etc. I figure that might explain not being able to access the site on occasion.

    If you decide to use E-Verify, then for best results I suggest accessing it during business hours on weekdays and not holidays and be prepared to answer questions about items on your credit report. The system appears to be constantly undergoing upgrades, so be patient.

    The Bottom Line 


    Most valuable services IMO:
    • Free credit monitoring services from US banks
    • My Social Security Website
    • One Year Fraud Alerts
    I was able to easily create an online account with the SS Admin and the information is straightforward and useful. My existing online account was all that I needed to see up-to-date credit report information from my US banks.

    Paid credit monitoring services are of little to no value to me because I can get everything they offer for free.

    The IRS website was difficult for expats to use before COVID. Now it is practically impossible.

    E-Verify is good in concept for protecting Social Security numbers from abuse, but until it is universally required it is not of much value. What is valuable is the ability to create an account and see whether or not your SS# is being abused...assuming the information is valid.

    In closing this post I just need to add that I suggest scanning all credit cards and IDs just in case they are ever stolen or lost. You can also read up on these suggestions to physically secure your sensitive documents and data. 
     

    A Final Warning 

     
    If you do not create your account on these government and credit bureau websites, then someone else just might do it behind your back. It happens.
     
     
     

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