The Australian government encourages citizens to protect their privacy and personal information.
Most of the tips provided by the Office of the Information Commissioner are pretty intuitive – know your rights, read privacy policies, use security software and more.
But you might be surprised to know “check your credit report” is also on the list of recommended actions.
Checking your credit report, preferably annually, is a good way to ensure incorrect information is not listed against you. Having the right information in place can protect you against identity theft, so is an important component of privacy in this sense.
The Privacy Act 1988 is an Australian law which regulates the handling of personal information about individuals. The Privacy Act has very strict rules, reflected in 13 Australian Privacy Principles, that control the way information about you is accessed, used and corrected.
The Privacy Act gives you the right to find out what’s in your credit report and change any incorrect information in your report.
As well as stopping others from stealing your identity, having an accurate credit report is also crucial if you want to borrow money. For example, when applying for credit such as a home loan, the lender will obtain your credit report to assess your credit worthiness and also your ability to repay the loan. You really don’t want your application for a home loan to be knocked back because of errors in your credit report, do you?
How to check your credit report
The first step is getting a copy of your credit report. This can be obtained free from credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, illion and Experian. Tasmanians can also refer to the Tasmanian Collection Service.
Make sure you spend a bit of time looking carefully for this free option – it is there, but can sometimes be a little buried.
The report will be sent to you in about ten days. If you are in a hurry and need it faster, you can pay between A$30 to A$50 dollars and the credit report will arrive in a day or two.
Look at the details
Once you have your credit report, there are certain things that you must check.
First, as a minimum, check that your personal details such as name, date of birth, employment and driver’s license or other identifying documents are correct.
Second, have a look at your credit history in the report. This will include details of all credit or loans that you applied for, any overdue payments more than 60 days for which default actions have been initiated, and any other credit infringements. Such credit infringements can be listed on your credit report for between five to seven years, depending on their severity.
Third, examine your repayment history to determine whether you missed any payments on due dates.
Last, check whether any recorded serious adverse credit activities such as bankruptcies, court judgements and debt agreements are correct and accurately reflect your circumstances.
What happens if it’s wrong?
You are entitled to request changes to any incorrect listing and this should be done free for you.
In the first instance, you can contact the credit reporting agency directly and they will be able to fix small errors immediately. For other errors originating from a credit provider such as a bank, they will sometimes even contact the bank on your behalf.
However, if you have to contact the credit provider yourself, do so and explain why the listing is incorrect. Most often, they will fix the mistake. If they refuse, you can then go to an independent dispute resolution scheme, such as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
If all else fails, you can also contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner who will deal with your complaint if it is not older than a year.
So, what are you waiting for? It really is in your best interest to check your credit report, and no one else can do it for you.
Authors: Harjinder Singh, Senior lecturer, Curtin University