Free credit reports? Not so fast!
December 7, 2011
In today's global economy where many transactions are done through a computer with credit cards instead of face to face with cash in hand, it is essential that consumers continuously monitor their credit score. The advent of identity theft and other related crimes have made monitoring one's credit score of paramount importance.
Everyone has seen the commercials and advertisements stating that they can get their credit reports for free with just a few clicks of a mouse. The process seems so easy on television, simply call or log-on to a website and in an instant you can have your credit score in hand. However, beware that those offers are not everything that they claim to be.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three consumer reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- to provide consumers with a free annual copy of their credit score. The three companies have consolidated their efforts into one authorized website to allow consumers to effectively and efficiently manage their credit: www.annualcreditreport.com.
Other companies have created websites that look like the official www.annualcreditreport.com, while still others use domain names that have common misspellings of www.annualcreditreport.com. These companies claim to offer free reports or scores, but often times these incentives are laden with hidden fees. Some sites offer services that are "free" but the service converts to a program in which the consumer must pay once the initial trial period ends. If consumers fail to cancel the service during the trial period, they may be agreeing to fees that will be assessed to their credit cards. Other sites try to sell consumers services, while others try to collect personal information that can be sold to other companies.
Since each consumer reporting company allows for one free report a year the easiest way to continuously monitor your credit score is to submit a request on a rolling basis every four months to a different reporting company. This method allows consumers to receive three reports spread out through the year as opposed to getting all the information at once. Consumers can log on to www.annualcreditreport.com and print out the request for their annual credit report. The method that protects consumers the most is to send the request through the mail to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. By mailing in the request instead of doing so on the website allows the consumer to avoid agreeing to the lengthy terms and conditions set forth on the website.
The official website, www.annualcreditreport.com, does not solicit consumers to purchase any products, send email solicitations, use pop-up ads, or ask for personal information over the phone. The Federal Trade Commission monitors such activity and tries to prevent unfair and deceptive business practices. To file a complaint consumers can visit www.ftc.gov, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4657). Military members or dependents that are having credit reporting issues should contact their local legal assistance office.