The number of online scams has increased over the last couple of years. One way to keep a close eye on potential scams is to monitor the information on your personal credit report actively.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The purpose of the FCRA is to promote the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the FCRA for credit reporting companies.
In response to COVID-19, all three credit reporting agencies are now offering free weekly online reports.
A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide credit reporting companies sell this information to creditors, insurance companies, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.
How do you order a free report?
The three biggest credit reporting companies have set up a central website to order your free report(s). Here are the steps:
- Visit annualcreditreport.com
- Click on “Request your free credit reports.”
- Fill out a form to verify your identity
- Pick the reports you want to access
- Request and review your reports online
- Repeat these steps to access your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion reports.
Be Careful About “Imposter” Websites
Only one website is authorized to fill a request for the free credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other sites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In many cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached.
For example, on some sites, when you sign up for a supposedly “free” service, it converts to one you have to pay for after a “trial period.” If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.
Some “imposter” sites use terms like “free report” 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 “imposter” sites direct you to other websites that try to sell you something or collect your personal information.
Also, annualcreditreport.com and the nationwide credit 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 credit reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. It’s probably a scam and phishing attempt. You can forward any such email to the FTC at email@example.com.
Because credit has become such an essential factor in establishing insurance premiums, you would serve your clients well by reminding them to check their credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies multiple times over the next year.