Monday, September 22, 2008

Deadline Newsroom FAQ 92208

When you have questions needing answers that really hit home, contact the Deadline Newsroom. This installment: ID-theft/credit monitoring; solar contractors; disclosing defects.

by Broderick Perkins
© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com
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Deadline Newsroom - Q: I'm concerned about identity theft. Should I buy a credit monitoring service?

A: Only if you are too busy to take no-cost steps to do it yourself. Everyone should be concerned about identity theft, which happens when someone pilfers your personal information to masquerade as you to make purchases, withdraw cash or open accounts in your name.

Credit monitoring services help you quickly spot evidence of ID-theft by keeping tabs on your credit report for suspicious activity. The services charge you $50 to $100 a year, but Consumer Reports calls the services "overrated, oversold, and overpriced."

That's because federal law allows you to do-it-yourself by getting your credit report from each major credit reporting agency -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- every year. That means, if you spread out the freebie access and obtain one report from a different agency every four months, you've effectively set up your own credit monitoring service. The federally sanctioned freebie is at Avoid similar-sounding Web sites.

Also, under a recent class-action settlement anyone with a credit card account from January 1987 to May 2008 is eligible for free credit monitoring benefits and other related services from TransUnion.

A recent data loss case also resulted in free credit report monitoring services for certain Bank of New York Mellon customers.

Even without free credit monitoring services, consumers who want to keep closer tabs on their information than what's provided by a free credit report every four months can turn to online banking, investment and financial account services that permit daily looks at activity on their accounts. Check with your financial institution for details.

Q: How can I find a competent contractor to install solar panels on my home?

A: Start with local, regional, state and then federal solar incentive programs offering tax and cash back incentives. They typically point to qualifying contractors or contractors affiliated and approved by the programs. In California, designated solar contractors are licensed by the Contractors State Licensing Board, specifically to perform solar energy work and other building or construction work necessary to install an active solar system. A California database; a national database of state incentive programs; and the federal U.S. Energy Department all also offer reference resources.

Q: My real estate agent says I have to disclose defects in my home for sale. But won't that turn off prospective buyers?

A: Maybe, but if you don't, your eventual buyer could sue you for not disclosing known defects that could affect the value or salability of your home. It's the law. Competent real estate professionals have a saying about uncertainty over what to disclose -- "If you can't figure it out, don't leave it out. Disclose. Disclose. Disclose." You can't and you don't have to disclose information you aren't aware of, but it behooves you to disclose to potential buyers everything from access via easements to zoo noise. You local real estate association or agent can give you all the disclosure requirements for your area.

Got questions? Send them to We'll do our best to get you the most relevant answer.
© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com

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Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews Group -- DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service and Web site and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's news back shop. In both cases, it's news that really hits home!

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