Identity Theft

No-Cost Credit Monitoring through CCCS

Recent news stories of data breaches have given consumers vivid examples of the many ways in which personal information can be compromised and the resulting havoc. While honest Americans are at work making a living, it has become evident that crooks are also working hard developing new ways to steal sensitive financial information for their own gain. 

Although no one can prevent identity theft, consumers can take steps to protect themselves against loss through early detection.  Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) is currently offering free 12-month memberships to Experian's  Among other features, the membership includes credit monitoring, notifying members to new activity on their credit report; a mobile app, enabling alerts and updates on the go; and access to fraud resolution agents if suspicious activity is found on the person's report.  Free membership to is available through Sharpen Your Financial Focus™, a program developed by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).   

"Consumers need to be aware of unauthorized credit activity, and one way to effectively accomplish that is through credit monitoring.  It's hard to put a price on financial peace of mind, but since the product is offered at no charge, consumers are without an excuse if they don't take advantage of this opportunity to protect areas of financial vulnerability," said LaTricia Schobert, director of CCCS. 

Federal laws protect consumers against loss, but are typically tied to a staggered notification timeframe.  Therefore, the sooner a person is aware of the issue, the more likely they are to suffer little or no financial loss. 

  •          Credit cards - Overall, credit cards offer the best protection against fraudulent transactions, with maximum liability limited to $50.  If the loss or theft is reported before the card is used, the liability drops to $0.  Additionally, the major card networks have $0 fraud liability plans in place. 
  •          Debit cards - Liability for unauthorized use of a debit card may depend on whether a PIN or signature was used, with a signature usually offering more protection. If the loss or theft is reported within two business days, it limits the liability to $50.  Wait more than two days and the liability can jump to $500.  Wait longer than 60 days from the date of the statement containing the fraud, and losses could be unlimited.

"Although financial loss may be limited, the loss of time spent reclaiming your good name and good credit can be significant. Consumers should remain as committed to protecting their personal information, as the thieves are to stealing it," continued Schobert.  "That's the only thing that will level the playing field, or perhaps even tilt it in the favor of the honest folks."

In addition to the credit monitoring and alerts, the product includes features such as access to the consumer's credit report and score, the Score Planner™ tool which estimates the impact specific financial decisions have on the credit score, and a wealth of personal finance articles.  These features all are designed to increase consumers' understanding of credit and to provide knowledge that can be used to make educated financial decisions.

The product complements the three-step Sharpen Your Financial Focus program. Delivered through NFCC member agencies like Consumer Credit Counseling Service, the steps are designed to help consumers regain control of their finances while increasing the likelihood of long-term positive credit behavior changes.

The memberships were provided through a generous gift from Experian in support of the financial education provided through the Sharpen Your Financial Focus program.

To learn more about the Sharpen Your Financial Focus program and take advantage of the product, reach out to Consumer Credit Counseling Service by calling 423-490-5620, or email

5 Ways to Protect Your Identity… FOR FREE!

Last year 12.6 million people were victims of identity theft.  In fact, according to this Javelin Strategy and Research report, every three seconds an unfortunate individual becomes a victim of identity fraud. There is nothing you can do to guarantee that your identity will not be stolen.  But there are measures you can take to protect yourself.  Here are 5 things you can do now without spending a dime.

  1. Check Your Credit Report
    By checking your credit report on a regular basis, you can monitor your identity to make sure that no credit cards, loans, or other debts have been obtained in your name.  You are entitled by law to receive your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) for free once a year.  The government established so that you can access all three of these credit reports in one place.  But instead of checking all three at once, you may want to stagger them, checking only one report every 4 months.   This way, every 4 months you're being notified of any activity that's going on in your name.   For more information, read Credit Reports 101.

  2. Add a Fraud Alert
    By adding a fraud alert to your identity, you are requiring that confirmation be made with you, personally, before an application of credit is accepted.  This means that before you or someone else can obtain a credit card or loan in your name, you will be called and asked for authorization.  To sign up for a free alert, you simply fill out this online formA fraud alert only lasts for 90 days, so you may want to set a reminder for yourself to continue to re-instate this alert every 3 months.  On the website, you may read that a fraud alert should be requested if you have reason to suspect that you may become a victim of identity theft.  With the prevalence of identity fraud in our society, it is appropriate to believe that any of us could become a victim at any time. 

  3. Manage Sensitive Information
    Dumpster Diving is still one of the predominant ways that identity thieves obtain sensitive information.  It is critical to shred any sensitive documents containing account numbers, social security numbers or dates of birth.  If you don't have a home shredder, Chattanooga's local Better Business Bureau holds a semi-annual shred event, allowing consumers to bring sensitive documents that they've saved to be disposed of safely and securely.  In order to reduce the number of sensitive documents that you receive by mail, go to www.OptOutPreScreen.comAt this website you can decline to receive pre-screened offers for the next 5 years.  Don't underestimate the need protect your online identity.  Set privacy features to prevent strangers from having access to your social media accounts.  If they can find your mother's maiden name, your high school mascot, or other personal details, then they may be able to reset a password to give them access to your email, bank accounts, etc. 

  4. Scrutinize Your Bank and Credit Card Statements
    Read all statements you receive thoroughly.  If you notice a charge that seems unfamiliar, call the credit card company for more information.  Even if it's only a few dollars, it could be the first of many unauthorized charges to come!  If you catch a discrepancy early on, you may be able to save yourself hours of time trying to recover a stolen identity. 

  5. Practice Safe Spending Habits
    Do not enter any payment information into a website that is unsecured.  A website that includes https:// in its url is secure - that 's' stands for secure.  Generally, you'll also see a padlock symbol next to the web address.  You may also want to consider using your credit card more frequently.  A credit card offers certain protections that a debit card does not.  If an identity thief obtains your debit card information, he has access to the money in your checking account.  However, if your credit card is compromised, an identity thief is stealing money from your credit card company, not you, personally.  If you can control your spending, you may want to use your credit card for online purchases, as well as any purchases made at an outdoor card reader. Identity thieves will sometimes place skimmers on gas stations pumps and ATMs to "read" your payment information.  For more information, click here.

Whether you've been a victim of identity theft, or you simply want to keep it from happening to you, check out the resources offered by the Federal Trade Commission.  And don't hesitate to contact CCCS with questions or concerns!

Sarah Clark Oster joined CCCS as the director of Marketing and Education Outreach in 2011.  For more information on saving money, contact Sarah by calling 423-490-5620 or email her at

Consumer Protection Week (March 4 - 10, 2012):
An Ideal Time to Add a Layer of Security to Personal Finances

Washington, DC - Personal finances have become increasingly complex, yet hardly a day goes by that doesn't involve a financial transaction.  Realizing that there are those eager to separate consumers from their money and destroy their financial reputation makes financial protection take on a new level of importance.   

In recognition of Consumer Protection Week, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) challenges consumers to add a layer of security to their financial future by putting the following do-it-yourself protection tips in place:

  • Use caution when engaging with social media sites, as even the smallest bit of data or casual comment can provide thieves with enough information to wreak havoc, both personally and financially. 
  • Beware of phishing.  Learn what to look for to verify that an email is authentic, as crooks can make such communications appear very realistic through logos and web addresses that mirror the actual.
  • Suspect that an email is a scam if it asks for personal information or money, even though it appears to be from someone you know or do business with.
  • When buying online, make the payment with a credit card instead of a debit card, as credit cards provide more security against fraud.
  • Become familiar with consumer rights by reviewing the Fair Credit Protection Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act, each available at
  • Guard against identity theft by obtaining your credit report from
  • Open and examine credit card statements for unauthorized transactions, or create access to financial accounts online in order to review statements more frequently.
  • Request direct deposit for all checks.  If not available, consider obtaining a post office box or locked mailbox.

"The above steps will move consumers into a much safer place financially," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.   "They are easy to implement, and will provide another level of much-needed financial protection.

For help making sure that all of your financial bases are covered, consider reaching out to Consumer Credit Counseling Service, an NFCC Member Agency.  To schedule an appointment with a Certified Credit Counselor, simply dial (423) 490-5620, or email

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation's largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC's mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help more than three million consumers through close to 800 community-based offices nationwide.

Chattanooga: 1-800-459-2227 |