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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2017 > Five Free (or Low-Cost) Ways to Stop Identity Theft

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Five Free (or Low-Cost) Ways to Stop Identity Theft

Many identity theft protection services charge monthly or annual fees, but there are other free and low-cost methods to protect your identity.
Here are five ways to help safeguard your personal information, watch for warning signs, and limit damage caused by identity theft. 
  1. Checking your free annual credit report. 
More than a decade ago, Congress passed a law allowing consumers to receive a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus every year. Reviewing your credit report helps you understand what creditors can see about you and spot warning signs of identity theft.
To access your free annual credit reports, visit, or call 877-322-8228. Some consumers choose a day they will remember (for example, their birthday) to request all three credit reports on the same date each year. Others choose to get a report from a different bureau every four months to regularly check for errors and signs of identity theft. For example, are there credit cards or loans listed that you never applied for? Are there loans or mortgages that are unfamiliar? If you find errors on a credit report, immediately notify the credit reporting bureau. The sooner you identify problems, the sooner you can work to correct them.
  1. Placing an initial fraud alert on your credit report.
If you think you have had personal information compromised or if you receive a letter from a company or agency with which you do business informing you of a data breach, place an initial fraud alert on your credit report through one of the three credit reporting bureaus. Whichever agency you choose then is required to contact the other two bureaus. The alert, which lasts for 90 days, tells new creditors to check your identity if, for example, they receive an application for a new car loan or a new credit card using your personal information.
Below is the contact information for the three major credit reporting bureaus:
  1. “Freezing” your credit.
Another – more permanent – step to consider is requesting a credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for an imposter to open accounts using your personal information. Ohioans can freeze their credit report by contacting each of the credit reporting bureaus and paying $5 per bureau to place the freeze. (Parents and guardians also can freeze their child’s credit record to help prevent child identity theft.) A credit freeze is permanent unless or until the consumer lifts the freeze, which costs an additional $5 per bureau. The fee may be waived for victims of identity theft. 
  1. Safely disposing of documents.
Consider improving how you handle mail and other items that contain your personal information to safeguard your identity. If you simply throw such items in the trash, invest in a crosscut or confetti shredder so that dumpster-diving identity thieves will be less likely to steal your details and use them to open up credit cards or other accounts in your name. Buying a shredder can be a wise investment to protect your personal information. 
  1. Getting help from the Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit.
If someone obtains and uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud, you are a victim of identity theft. The sooner you recognize the problem and take steps to correct it, the easier it generally will be to stop further damage. The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section provides an Identity Theft Unit to help victims restore their identity. The Identity Theft Unit offers two programs, both of which are free to Ohio victims: 
  • Under the Traditional Assistance program, a consumer advocate will work with credit agencies, creditors, collectors, or other organizations on the victim’s behalf. This option is ideal for those who are not comfortable trying to correct the effects of identity theft themselves.
  • Under the Self-Help Assistance program, victims receive a step-by-step guide to attempt to rectify the effects of identity theft themselves. This option is ideal for those who prefer to work at their own pace and contact credit reporting agencies and creditors themselves. 
If you are a victim of identity theft and need assistance, or if you suspect a scam or an unfair business practice, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.