Congress mandated that consumers have access to their credit reports free of charge in the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. For anyone concerned about their credit rating, identity theft or their credit history, it is advisable to get a free copy of your credit report.
In addition, pulling a copy of your credit report can help you to identify any credit accounts that you no longer use. You may want to close unused credit accounts to improve your credit rating and protect against unauthorized use by others. When you call credit departments to close an unused account, make sure to request that all three credit reporting agencies are notified by the company and also request that a letter be sent to you, notifying you of the closed account.
Consumers should beware of email and ad scams that offer free credit reports, by following the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for obtaining your free credit report.
Below is the official Federal Trade Commission information for obtaining a copy of your free credit report —
• Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report, at their request, from each of the three companies ( Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion ) once every 12 months. According to the Act, consumers may order free credit reports from all three companies at the same time, or stagger their requests over the course of the year.
• Consumers can order their free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling toll-free at 1-877-322-8228, or by mailing a completed Annual Credit Report Request Form (available at www.ftc.gov) to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
• When ordering your free credity report online, you must provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to give your previous address. To maintain the security of your file, each nationwide consumer reporting company also may ask you for information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask you for different information. That’s because the information each company has in your file may come from different sources.
• The only authorized Web site for the program is www.annualcreditreport.com. Some Web sites offer a supposedly “free” service that converts to one that requires a fee after a trial period ends. Some bogus Web sites have “free” in their name; others misspell the name of the official Web site, hoping consumers’ typing errors will lead them to Web sites that try to sell things or collect personal information. To avoid mistyping the name, click on the annual credit report link on the FTC’s website (www.ftc.gov).
• E-mails and pop ads claiming to be from annualcreditreport.com or any of the three companies are probably scams. Such e-mail should be forwarded to the FTC’s spam database at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Consumers who use www.annualcreditreport.com to get their free report online should close their Internet browser after obtaining their report to be sure their transaction is secure and their personal information is not at risk.