by Kim Charlson
I have heard from many people who are blind around the country who have experienced identity theft, or who have had their economic security jeopardized by a corporate security breach. As people who are blind, we often rely to some extent on the assistance of others to conduct our financial business. Whether you rely on a family member, friend, or volunteer to read mail, write checks, make deposits or withdrawals from your bank or ATM machine, I encourage you to be vigilant and take steps to protect your economic identity.
Let me share with you some resources that you may use to protect yourself from identity theft. As a result of structured negotiation by the American Council of the Blind, the California Council of the Blind, and attorneys Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian, free credit reports are available for people who are blind or visually impaired in braille, large print, audio CD and online in an accessible format. A free credit report can be ordered from any of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion, by calling toll-free, 1-877-322-8228. This is an automated system. After entering identifying information, including your telephone number and Social Security number, callers will be given the option of receiving reports in braille, large print or audio formats. The reports will also be sent separately in print. The alternative format version you select should arrive within two or three days of the print copy. The request to select your format comes toward the end of the process.
You should be aware that while credit reports are free through the toll-free number above, credit scores are not. Information on how to request credit scores will be provided when ordering the initial reports. Credit scores should also be provided in braille, large print, and audio formats to those who order the initial reports in these formats.
Credit reports delivered online have been designed to be accessible in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They are available only through Annualcreditreport.com – the official web site operated by the three credit reporting agencies. You should be aware that not all sites that claim to provide free reports actually have free reports, and certainly not all of those sites are accessible.
For the past five years the three credit reporting agencies have been very committed to providing credit report information in accessible formats for people with visual impairments. The companies have also been quick to resolve any problems that may arise, including issues with inaccessible captchas that were quickly corrected with the substitution of an accessible captcha option for logging into the site and requesting a free credit report.
At this time of year when people are thinking about financial issues and taxes, those of us who are blind or visually impaired must take extra precautions to protect our private and confidential financial information. Utilize the available resources, including a free annual credit report in an accessible format. While doing so, remember and be proud of the advocacy victory ACB helped to make possible for anyone who is blind or visually impaired to maintain their financial independence and credibility.