Beware Free Credit Report Scams
At long last, those of us on the East Coast can finally order a free copy of our credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. The free credit reports were ordered by Congress two years ago when it passed a law to reduce the incidence of identity theft by encouraging people to regularly check their credit reports for signs of suspicious activity.
If you are going to order your reports online, the only Web site you need to know is AnnualCreditReport.com. Most of the other 1.5 million sites out there that come up when you search for "free credit report" either will require you sign up for their costly credit-monitoring services, or are designed to scam or bilk consumers.
According to my colleague Caroline Mayer's informative story from today's paper, the FTC said earlier this month that it had identified 130 impostor sites that may be trying to mislead consumers. From Mayer's piece: "Consumer groups that have monitored these sites say many either charge a fee for a free report or, worse, try to collect personal information that can be used to commit future identity theft. The story notes that many of these sites have been designed to look like the officially sanctioned site and some have sound-alike names or Internet addresses that are very similar, off by only a letter or punctuation mark, to take advantage of any misspellings or typos."
At the very least, if you misspell www.annualcreditreport.com while typing it into your browser address bar, you may soon find yourself at a site that charges well above what the credit bureaus themselves traditionally charge for credit reports. Type "www.abnualcreditreport.com", for instance, and you will be redirected to www.nationalcreditreport.com, a company operated out of Boca Raton, Fla. that charges nearly $35 for a copy of your credit report.
Mayer's story says that even if consumers go to the correct Web site, there are still problems, according to the complaints received by the FTC: "The 2,100 complaints received by the FTC from consumers "is a large number of complaints considering the system has been in place only since December 1, 2004, and has not been available to the entire country," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, which has been monitoring the free-credit-report program."
Caroline conducted a Live Online chat with washingtonpost.com about this issue earlier today; a transcript of that chat is available here.
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