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How to get your free credit report

Everyone is entitled to a copy of their credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies each year. But be sure you're getting it free. Here's how.

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You can access the information online at annualcreditreport.com, but watch out -- if you don't get the Web address exactly right or if you search for terms such as "free credit report," you could get sucked in and scammed by one of the many credit report "impostors" inhabiting cyber world. A third method of obtaining the information is by regular mail, but you must first complete a form to send with your request and, of course, it takes longer.

The free credit reports came as a result of the FTC's ruling under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

According to the ruling, the three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- each are required to provide consumers, upon request, a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from a centralized source. This centralized source includes a Web site, a toll-free telephone number and a postal address.

The reports are not automatically be sent out. You must request them in one of three ways: over the Internet by going to annualcreditreport.com; by phone, by calling 877-322-8228; or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form, and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5281.

The trio of reporting agencies established a single authorized Web source for customers to access the information for free: annualcreditreport.com. That is the only federally mandated source for free, no-strings-attached credit reports.

The rest of the Internet Web sites advertising "free" reports are in fact impostors whose real agenda is to steer unsuspecting consumers into a for-profit marketing enterprise, according to a World Privacy Forum in-depth investigation and report.

"As a long-time pro-technology advocate, it saddens me to advise consumers to avoid a legitimate Internet site," says Pam Dixon, WPF executive director. But, she adds, even the AnnualCreditReport.com site blurs the lines as to what services are free to consumers and what are available at a cost.

The WPF report uncovered dozens of confusing sites, many of which are operated by Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the big three bureaus who together run the government-mandated and authorized free report site.

Fraudulent, deceptive and misspelled domains
An estimated 50 impostor domains are active and luring unsuspecting customers to questionable sites -- including Experian, Equifax and TransUnion sites that charge for the very same service they are offering for free. In other words, while they run one Web site jointly that offers free reports, they're also running dozens of other sites -- often under different names, such as ConsumerInfo.com -- that charge for the same or additional services.

-- Updated: Sept. 1, 2005





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