How to Avoid Free Credit Report Scams
You may have heard of your right to get a free credit report each year. So have scammers who'd like nothing more than to trick you out of your money, your personal information, or both. Learn more about common credit report scams and how to avoid them.
What Is a Credit Report?
Your credit report is a record of your past and present credit activity. Most people have multiple credit reports, including one from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Lenders and other financial institutions use information in your credit reports to decide whether to offer you loans and credit and determine your interest rate. Other businesses like insurance and rental companies may also use information from your credit report to decide your insurance rate or whether to rent an apartment to you. Potential employers may also check your credit report as part of their screening process, but they can only do this with your consent.
Your credit reports are different from your credit scores. Your credit scores are based on information in your credit reports. A credit score is a number generated by a scoring model that gives a snapshot of your credit history. One score that's often used by lenders is a FICO Score.
Your Right to a Free Credit Report
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 gives consumers the right to get one free credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus. That means every year you can get one free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for a total of three free credit reports.
The FTC partnered with the credit bureaus to offer a simple, centralized way for consumers to get these credit reports through annualcreditreport.com. Once you visit the website, you complete a form, indicate which reports you want, then answer a few questions from each agency to confirm your identity.
Starting in 2020, Equifax allows consumers to get up to six credit reports per year through 2026. Additionally, all three credit bureaus are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Common Credit Report Scams
Even though getting a legitimate copy of your credit report is easy, imposter sites confuse consumers and trick them into paying for their free credit reports. These sites may claim to offer free credit reports, credit scores, or monitoring, but they aren't part of the official annual credit report program. Or they may use common misspellings of annualcreditreport.com to trick you into providing personal information.
With some of these sites, you may be required to sign up for a free trial for a subscription to get your "free" credit report. If you forget to cancel your subscription, you're charged a fee until you cancel.
Some scammers may also attempt phishing by sending you emails claiming to have updates on your credit report or score. Don't click on links from unknown senders, and don't input personal information unless you're sure a site is legitimate.
To confirm whether an email was sent from a real company, type the company's URL into your browser directly to access your account. Alternatively, contact the company using the number on their website. They can confirm whether the contact was legitimate.
Keep in mind that while credit reports are available for free, credit scores typically aren't. You may be able to get your credit score through your credit card company for free. You can also get your credit score from the three credit reporting agencies and the scoring services themselves. For example, you can get your FICO credit score from FICO for a fee.
While many websites offer free credit scores, these are typically VantageScores and not FICO scores. FICO scores are more commonly used by lenders. If you do buy your credit score from FICO or a credit reporting agency, pay attention to the terms. You don't need to sign up for credit monitoring and other services, and if it's a subscription, make sure to cancel if you don't want to be charged again. While these aren't scams, you could be out some unexpected money if you don't pay close attention.
How to Protect Yourself From Scams
Free credit report scams are tricky and misleading. Here's how to avoid a scam:
- Type the URL (annualcreditreport.com) directly into your browser, making sure to spell it correctly. Some of the imposter sites take advantage of misspelled URLs.
- Don't enter your credit card number. Accessing your free credit report will not require you to enter a credit card number. If you're entering your credit card number, there's a chance the company is looking for a way to charge you in the future.
- Don't sign up for a free trial to any subscription service. You will not have to sign up for anything to receive your free credit report.
- If you sign up for a trial subscription to get your free credit report or buy your credit score, make sure you cancel before the trial period ends. That way, your credit card won't be charged.
You may be able to access free credit monitoring through a credit card company or credit reporting agencies. You can also pay for one of the best credit monitoring services, but if you're checking your credit reports at least once per year for errors, it may not be worth the cost.
What to Do if You've Been Scammed
If you've been scammed, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your state's Attorney General. You can file your FTC complaint online, and it will also provide you with the next steps to take to protect yourself. You can find your Attorney General on the National Association of Attorneys General website, and many of them allow you to file a complaint online as well.