It's important for all consumers--and especially those with a
bankruptcy or credit problems in the past--to monitor their
credit reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles every
consumer to a free credit report from each of the three major
credit reporting agencies once each year. Those reports can be
obtained directly from the credit reporting agencies, or all
three can be ordered at no charge through
Take care, though, in typing in that URL. Or better yet, visit
the Federal Trade Commission's "Credit" page at www.ftc.gov
follow the link from there. The FTC warns that companies with
similar-sounding URLs may offer free credit reports but actually
tie the receipt of those reports to other purchases.
A search for "free credit report" brought up both the authorized
site above and the FTC information page, but the top ten results
also included four companies providing free credit reports along
with automatic enrollment in a credit watch program at prices
ranging from $9.95 to $12.95/month. Another company in the top
ten results actually offered the three credit reports for
sale--for $29.95--but offered a free credit score when you paid
for the reports.
The credit score isn't included in the free annual reports, but
consumers who are only monitoring their credit reports for
accuracy won't really need the score. For those who need scores
to plan a major purchase--or who just want to know--those scores
can be purchased through www.annualcreditreport.com
when a free
annual report is requested.
Paying for a report that should be free, or for an unnecessary
service, isn't the greatest risk, though. The FTC also warns
that companies claiming to provide free credit reports may be
using the information gathered for altogether less honorable
purposes. At the least dangerous end of the spectrum, they may
simply be gathering personal information for sale to marketing
companies. However, some such companies have used the claim that
they're providing credit reports as a means of obtaining
information for identity theft.
The bottom line is that there are only two officially accepted
ways to obtain your credit report: go through
or order the three reports from each
of the three credit reporting agencies individually. The FTC
offers more extensive information about credit reports and the
companies that provide them on its website.
If you're checking your credit reports--and you should be--make
sure that you do the research necessary to know who you're
dealing with and exactly what you're signing on for.
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