Keeping tabs on your credit report is an important part of staying fiscally fit, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises. However, consumers should avoid using some advertised services that promise “free” credit reports, credit scores or credit monitoring services.
Pulling your credit report on a regular basis is a smart way for consumers to stay on top of their financial health. The reports also can help you figure out whether someone has stolen your identity or tried to commit financial fraud.
Many advertisements on television or online claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores” or “free credit monitoring.” Often, the service is free only if you sign up for another service that isn’t free. In some cases, the advertisers may be attempting to steal your identity or sign you up for something that results in a monthly fee charged to a credit card.
The only way to get a truly free copy of a credit report is by using a service sponsored by the three nationwide credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and Transunion. The service is available at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers also may go to the website and download a request form that can be mailed to an address in Atlanta. Mailed reports normally arrive within two or three weeks.
The BBB offers the following tips for consumers who want to check their reports:
- Do not access the Annual Credit Report request service through links from unfamiliar websites. If you get an email or see a pop-up ad claiming it’s from AnnualCreditReport.com or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. To help ensure the privacy and protection of your personal information, go to AnnualCreditReport.com directly to request your free annual credit report either through a secure website, by phone or by mail. AnnualCreditReport.com will not approach consumers via email, telemarketing or direct mail solicitations.
- Consider pulling your reports every three or four months. While you can pull reports from all three credit bureaus at once, consider pulling your credit reports one at a time spread through the year. Pulling your reports separately allows you to better monitor your reports and keep track of any changes or new information that may appear on your credit report. If you pull all your reports at once, you won’t be eligible to pull a free report again for 12 months.
- Pull your child’s credit report. Child identity theft remains a national problem, so it makes sense to see if your child has a report. The credit reporting agencies do not knowingly maintain credit files on minor children, but you can contact the credit reporting agencies directly, and they can run the report. If there is one, your child could be a victim of identity theft.
- Avoid companies that claim they can improve your credit for free. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be wary of companies that make claims regarding credit repair. These companies, commonly called credit clinics, don't do anything for consumers that consumers cannot do for themselves at little or no cost. Beware of any organization that offers to create a new identity and credit file for you. For more information on credit clinics and a list of warning signs visit www.ftc.gov.
- Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report. Inaccurate, derogatory information can lower your credit score and may indicate possible fraudulent activity. If you find information that you believe is inaccurate, you have the right to dispute it free of charge. Contact the reporting agency you pulled your report from to file your dispute.
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