"Free" Credit Report Offers

We have all seen the ads on the Internet or perhaps received an e-mail touting "free" credit reports. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to be careful when responding to such offers. Some of these online operators do not actually provide credit reports, but may be using their sites as a way to capture a consumer’s personal information. Once your information has been obtained, they may sell your information to others who may use it to commit fraud, including identity theft.

The BBB, along with the Federal Trade Commission, urge consumers to take the following precautions when visiting sites or responding to e-mails that offer credit reports:

  • If you receive an e-mail offering a credit report, do not reply or click on the link in the e-mail. Instead, contact the company cited in the e-mail using a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine.
  • Be skeptical of unsolicited e-mail offering credit reports. Be cautious of e-mail from an atypical address, like ABC123@website.net, or an e-mail address ending in a top level domain other than .com, like .ru or .de.
  • Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Silly mistakes and sloppy copy – for example, an area code that does not match an address – often are red flags that the site may be a scam.
  • Check to see if the e-mail address matches the Web address. When you enter the company’s Web address in the browser, does it go to the sender’s site or re-direct you to a different Web address? If it re-directs you, cease the transaction.
  • Exit from a Web site that asks for unnecessary personal information, like a Personal Identification Number (PIN) for your bank account, the three-digit code on the back of your credit card, or your passport number and issuing country. Legitimate sites do not ask for this information.
  • Use only secure Web sites. Look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar, and phrase “https” in the URL address on a Web site, to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
  • Watch your credit card statements: If you have responded to a bogus site, you may never receive the credit report they offered for free. But, watch for other charges you did not authorize. Contact your credit card issuer immediately in this case.

To obtain a copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus, contact:

Beginning December 2004, consumers in certain states will be able to request a free credit report according to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act. For more information on this rule, visit www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/06/freeannual.htm.