In Maryland, state law entitles residents to a free report each year from the three bureaus, which must be contacted individually. That's a total of six reports each year under state and federal laws. Marylanders can set up a free monitoring system by ordering a report every other month.
If you want to prevent a thief from opening new lines of credit under your name, put a freeze on your credit report. This prevents a new creditor from seeing your report, which means it's unlikely to allow anyone — you included — from opening new credit.
Marylanders must pay $5 to freeze a report and another $5 to lift the freeze. Each bureau has its own instructions on freezing a report, so check the companies' websites for directions.
Card registration Lose your wallet or purse, and you will have to notify all the card issuers to get replacements. For a fee, you can register your cards with a company that will make those calls for you. American Express' Lost Wallet Protector, which also can help replace a lost passport, costs $39.99 a year.
Ben Woolsey, director of consumer research for CreditCard.com, a card comparison site, says this is unnecessary.
"Why not do it yourself? Make a few phone calls and save yourself some money," he says.
If you used a card registration service, you would have entered your card information when you signed up, he notes. Collect this information for yourself and keep it in a secure location in case you lose your wallet and need to call the card companies.
Card issuers will continue to pitch extra services for a fee, but Consumer Action's Sherry says most consumers may not realize that the best perks are free.
For example, some cards provide purchase protection, which reimburses consumers if an item purchased with the card is stolen or damaged within 90 days, she says. Others automatically extend the warranty of products paid for by credit card. And some cards offer concierge services, she says, which can help with ticket purchases and vacation planning.
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