If you’ve been a CreditForums member for awhile, you’re probably aware that The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles you to a free credit report every 12 months (official link) from all three major bureaus.
However it’s still incredibly easy to fall prey to many common scams, including websites that attempt to mislead you into believing it’s the official website or websites that offer “free” reports — with a catch.
$359 is far from free and this is the how much you will be charged over the course of a year for your TransUnion credit report from a leading credit report service called Profinity if you don’t cancel within the 7 day “trial” period.
Today I want to show you how to request your free credit report, and more importantly, help you to spot the misleading offers and scams before you sign up and notice the reoccurring charges a few months down the road.
Your Right To a Truly Free Credit Report
As I mentioned above, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to a free credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once every 12 months. All three bureaus set up a single website, mailing address and toll-free number to order your free report, so basically you have three ways to claim your report.
- You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com (click the official link I’ve provided or type this directly into your browser and avoid misspellings!) and access your report online – this is the easiest in my opinion.
- You can also call 1-877-322-8228 to claim your report.
- Or your can complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you’re requesting your annual free report, make sure the above address is the only one you visit.
Important: There are plenty of imposter websites out there offering “free” credit reports or credit scores but they are not a part of this legally required program and most come with strings attached, such as trial periods. Many also have URLs very similar to annualcreditreport.com, including misspellings.
Also, while not a scam, watch out for the paid advertisements while ordering your free reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. While filling out the information to request your report from TransUnion, for example, you may notice red text saying “I want my FREE credit score*,” which is really just an ad to a paid service they provide.
Impostor Sites Will Do Anything For Your Money
One of the most notorious “imposter” websites is FreeCreditReport.com (which I’m not going to link to for obvious reasons). This service, which is similar to Profinity, can also cost you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. This is because FreeCreditReport.com requires that you sign up for a trial subscription to a credit monitoring service and you must provide credit card information.
If you don’t cancel before the trial ends, your credit card is charged and that free report isn’t so free anymore. What’s worse, this is a recurring charge so you may end up paying way more for your report than you would have paid by simply going directly through the credit bureaus.
Once you sign up, the only way to cancel this service and many others is to call and spend 20 minutes speaking to a customer service representative who is more than likely based in India or another foreign country. This person is often just a sales associate who will try to entice you with an endless barrage of follow up offers to prevent you from canceling.
While I think it’s important to make clear that FreeCreditReport.com isn’t technically a scam and does offer SOME value to those who sign up – in my experience the sign up process is definitely misleading if you fail to read the fine print.
The World Privacy Forum found more than 200 imposter free credit report websites in 2005 and many of them used affiliate links to one of the credit bureaus. Sadly this hasn’t changed much since then, in fact it’s gotten worse, much worse.
Extremely Important: Make sure you type AnnualCreditReport.com directly into your browser’s address bar and double-check that it’s spelled correctly as some fraudsters register domains that are intentional misspellings. Never enter your credit card information. If the report is really free, this will never be necessary. Don’t sign up for free trials to get access to your credit report.
The Shady Shift To Free Credit Scores
Lately the FTC has been cracking down on services that mislead customers into signing up for a free credit report. To get around the new regulations many of these services have pivoted to offering “free credit scores” instead of reports.
In fact, the same company that operates FreeCreditReport.com website also operates FreeCreditScore.com, but this is certainly not the only website out there claiming to give you your credit score for free.
Unlike the law that gave consumers free access to their credit report, there is no such law that guarantees free access to your credit score. The same tips to avoid free credit report scams apply here: never provide your credit card information and beware of free trials.
Here’s How To See Your Scores For Free
If you want to see your credit score for free, without the risk of signing up for something that may cost you hundreds of dollars, here are your options:
1. You can Estimate your FICO score.
Your FICO score is the one most used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness. You can use tools to estimate your FICO score, which require answering questions about your credit history to give you a range of where your FICO score probably falls. A few websites offer FICO score estimators, most notably MyFICO.
2. Receive Your Vantage Score from Equifax.
Quizzle is a free service that provides you with your real credit score from Vantage based on your report with Equifax. It isn’t a FICO score but it provides a very good approximation. Best of all, not credit card is required to get your score! The website also provides financial tools and advice if you want to improve your credit score, find and dispute credit reporting errors, or get tips to save money.
3. Experian National Equivalency Score from Experian.
If you sign up for a free account with CreditSesame you can get your free Experian National Equivalency Score, which is another FICO imitator like the ERS and TransRisk scores above.While it may come pretty close and show you where you stand, keep in mind it is not your real FICO credit score.
4. Use a Credit Cards that Provides a Free Credit Score
You may have seen Discover advertising that anyone – even non-members – can receive a free credit score. Other card issuers offering free credit scores each month to their cardholders include American Express, Capital One, Citi and more.
However, free is free. This means it cost you nothing. But it will not always be the same exact score as what lenders are looking at when making their final decision. In most instances, these free scores will be good enough to let you know where you stand credit-wise.
However, if you want to get your real FICO score — the number lenders look at — you will have to buy it directly from myFICO.com. Currently, you can only buy your TransUnion and Equifax FICO score, not your Experian FICO scores.
At the end of the day, it’s important to read the fine print before signing up for any service. If you come across a sketchy service or something that sounds too good to be true, create a new thread in the credit scoring section and ask if it is legitimate. Chances are, someone will know – and it may save you hundreds of dollars in wasted time and money.