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Phone (don't click) for your free credit report -- Page 2

The WPF investigation identified 96 known misspelled, registered domains -- 28 of which belong to Experian and other credit services such as MyFico at Fair Isaac. These sites try to exploit errors in typing to deliver you to a different site with services you have to pay for. Some of these impostor sites actually claim to be www.AnnualCreditReport.com, while others take advantage of the typing error to forward information on you to search engines or advertising partners of other affiliates.

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Snags at authorized site
Even if you're fortunate and careful enough to get to the "real" free credit report site, you're still not out of the woods. When you visit the site you first fill in some personal information and continue to the next page. There, you have the choice of selecting one of the big three to order your report from.

Remember, you are entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the big three credit reporting firms. You can order all three at once, which is good if you want to compare them, or you can order one now and save the others for later on, which you may choose in order to see how the information improves or declines. And remember, the reports do not include your respective credit scores -- you have to pay to get those.

If you choose TransUnion, for example, it requires you to register to get your free report and asks for an e-mail address. If you sign up for its newsletter, it will share your credit and other information with affiliates and partners. Experian and Equifax, the WPF says, use confusing menus in offering the free credit reports and ordering reports from all three means a consumer would have to read and understand several different privacy policies. Robert Brennan, an attorney in La Crescenta, Calif., issues another interesting warning: Some of these online credit report sites contain a mandatory arbitration agreement which prevents you from taking a case against the credit bureau to court.

"I have long recommended the Internet to consumers for advice, research and consumer information," says Dixon, "but in this case I strongly urge using the toll-free telephone number to order these reports. Doing that will expose you to far fewer hazards and challenges, some of which could be quite serious."

Scott Bilker, founder of DebtSmart.com and author of the best-selling "Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt," says it is almost impossible to monitor, never mind control, the mushrooming of these impostor sites. "The big credit bureaus do offer free credit reports. But they are also quick to order information about your credit score which comes at a price. They also try to sell other services such as credit score protection or credit management.

Paul Richard, executive director of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education (ICFE), also is warning consumers about bogus credit report sites. "If, for one reason or another, someone has to use the Internet for this purpose," he says, "the most critical thing to insure is that the correct address or URL has been typed in correctly."

Protecting yourself

  • Free is free: If you have to supply a credit card or checking account number, it means you're going to pay. You may get the initial credit report for free, but you may also be signing up for a continuing service at a price.
  • No junk mail: Don't respond to e-mail offers for free credit reports -- they're almost always spam.
  • Be secure: Always be sure you're on a secured Web site when entering your personal information.
  • Keep it secret: When phoning the toll free number (877-322-8228) for a free credit report, ask that only the last four digits of your Social Security number are displayed on the reports to be mailed to you.
  • Reduce solicitations: Don't give out your e-mail address to obtain a federally mandated free credit report -- it is not required.
  • Run from pop-ups: If you do choose to go online to https://www.AnnualCreditReport.com and see pop-up ads, or if the site is not secure, close your browser and start over. Secure sites will have a padlock logo in the corner, and the address will begin with https:// instead of just http://.
  • Check and uncheck: If you go online to https://www.AnnualCreditReport.com, be sure to look for any pre-checked marketing or newsletter offers. If you decide you do not want these offers, uncheck the box.

"In this day and age, with identity theft rampant," says attorney Brennan, nephew of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., "it's a good idea to subscribe to a monitoring service to keep on top of your credit report and changes each month."

For complete findings of the "Call, Don't Click" report visit WorldPrivacyForum.

-- Updated: Aug. 15, 2008





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