You’ve seen the commercials… “sign up for our service and get your free credit report now!”
You’ve probably also heard that the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are required by the Federal Trade Commission to provide you a copy of your report every year, for free.
Do you know that the commercials mentioned above are a fraudulent (in my opinion, don’t send the lawyers, I’m entitled to my opinion) attempt to get you to PAY for what they* are required to give you for FREE? Sure, they justify it by providing your “magic number” (credit score) as well as the report… but that’s a generally nonsensical reason to give up your hard earned money, unless you happen to be planning the purchase of a new home. Most of us just need to keep an eye on our credit reports – to protect ourselves against ID theft, fraud, and the stupid mistakes creditors are known to make.
The pay services do allow you access to your report any time you like… but again, how many of us want or need to see our report every day, week, or month? Every few months seems to be fine – and the free reports as mandated by the FTC will provide just that, as long as you apply a modicum of self-discipline.
A Warning About â€œImposterâ€ Websites
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law â€“ annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer â€œfree credit reports,â€ â€œfree credit scores,â€ or â€œfree credit monitoringâ€ are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the â€œfreeâ€ product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly â€œfreeâ€ service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you donâ€™t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.
Some â€œimposterâ€ sites use terms like â€œfree reportâ€ in their names; others have URLs that purposely misspell annualcreditreport.com in the hope that you will mistype the name of the official site. Some of these â€œimposterâ€ sites direct you to other sites that try to sell you something or collect your personal information.
annualcreditreport.com and the nationwide consumer reporting companies will not send you an email asking for your personal information. If you get an email, see a pop-up ad, or get a phone call from someone claiming to be from annualcreditreport.com or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. Itâ€™s probably a scam. Forward any such email to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what I do:
I have a reminder through my email client that appears once every four months. Three times a year, I remind myself to pull a single credit report, moving sequentially through the three services. I resist the temptation to subscribe to any of the little pop-up offers on the way to the free report, and I save a copy of the report to a secure storage device each time. Some of them refuse to provide a report that can be downloaded (print only), however PDFCreator or a similar program deals with that nicely.
Unless you’re a victim of identity theft, or have some serious credit problems that require a higher level of monitoring, you probably don’t need to waste your money on “services” that provide nothing of value. Take advantage of the free reports the monitoring services are required by law to provide.
*note: “They” may be the credit reporting services, third parties in collusion with said services, or simply third parties out to make a buck by misleading the consumer… I have no idea, and frankly I don’t care.
edit: I had thought to provide links to the fake “free” credit report sites… but they don’t need the little bit of traffic this site would provide… they’re already all over the television, radio, and internet. Which makes it all the more apparent that people need to be told there’s a real way to get your reports for free.