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Knowledge is power: How the right reporting agency can help you

(BPT) – With the aftershocks of the massive Target data breach still being felt, consumers are now more vigilant than ever when it comes to perusing their card and bank statements on the watch for suspicious activity. But consumers don’t want to go it alone; a recent Infosys study found 82 percent of consumers want, and even expect, their banks to help detect inconsistencies or irregularities in their accounts that could be indicative of fraud.

The good news is there are several specialty consumer reporting agencies that do just that – they work closely with banks and lenders across the country to spot anomalies in accounts that may indicate fraud and identity theft. Most consumers are probably aware of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) that monitor individual credit activity. But the fact that specialized consumer reporting agencies exist might be a surprise. Like the credit bureaus, specialized credit agencies operate with oversight from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and most adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). There are about 40 agencies and they compile reports based on the needs of specialized users such as insurance companies, utility providers, financial services organizations, employers and landlords. Those that serve the banking industry typically monitor account trends and can serve as allies in helping consumers and institutions be aware of potential fraud or ID theft.

One such agency, Early Warning, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., offers consumers the following recommendations to safely and securely make transactions with their financial institutions:

* Only share your financial account numbers with formal business partners.

* Shred old and/or outdated checks and bank statements.

* Review monthly account statements for suspicious charges.

* Understand that over-drafting on checking and saving accounts is often classified as account abuse and can affect the authorization of future financial accounts.

To learn about the information in your consumer reports, request free consumer reports annually. The CFPB maintains a list of agencies that maintain reports on consumers at files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201207_cfpb_list_consumer-reporting-agencies.pdf.

As a result of collaborating with banks to fight fraud, agencies like Early Warning bring safeguards to the financial system allowing consumers to take advantage of greater conveniences like quickly opening a new account, faster access to deposited funds and enhanced mobile banking.

“Knowledge is power” is especially true when it comes to your finances. Ultimately, when consumers understand the information in their banking report, they can best protect their finances and secure their identity.

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