You are probably aware that all three credit bureaus are required by federal law to provide you with a free credit report annually. Each year you can request a free credit report from Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. You may think that the best way to get your free credit report is to call the major credit bureaus directly, but actually the best way is to use the FTC approved free annual credit report website.
Free Credit Report Website
Unfortunately, as with everything, there are a lot of free credit report scams out there hoping to trick unsuspecting users with official looking websites purporting to offer “free” credit reports. If you look closely, you’ll find some find print saying that these are not the officially, federally endorsed, websites to offer free annual credit reports, but if you just start clicking the big, inviting buttons, you’ll end up on the hook for some expensive services to go along with your “free” services.
Free Credit Report Scams
First of all, do NOT go to freeannualcreditreport.com or anything with the word FREE in it. The free government mandated credit report website does NOT have the word FREE in it’s name. If you go to any site with the word free in it, prepare to be scammed or signed up for expensive credit monitoring services. The real credit report website is annualcreditreport.com. Notice that there is no “free” in that domain name.
The most common free credit report scam is to offer you a free credit score or free credit report that actually is a trial subscription to an expensive credit monitoring service. This is true both of blatant, fraudulent scammers, and all of the legitimate credit bureaus and myFICO. Be very, very careful to read all of the fine print and make sure that you do not see anything about a trial period, or a subscription before clicking OK. The easiest way to avoid the scam is to NOT enter your credit card number or bank information. You do not have to enter chargable information to get your free credit report.
If you are entering a credit card number, or a bank routing number and account number FOR ANY REASON, including “verification” you are opening yourself up for a big bank charge and an ongoing scam.
Legitimate Free Annual Credit Reports
Unfortunately, even once you get to the true free credit report website, you still are not home free. The three major credit bureaus have taken advantage of this federal law to try and generate even more revenue at the expense of customers looking to improve their credit score and clean up their credit reports.
This is what the current annual credit report website looks like. Can you spot the free credit reports all three credit bureaus are required to offer you by law?
Once you click that red button, you will have to enter identifying information to retrieve your credit report, including your full-name, social security number, address and so on. That’s why it is so important to get the right website. All of that information is an identity theft gold mine.
You have to request each credit report individually. There is no way to get an all three credit bureaus credit report at the same time. They could do this, but they don’t want to. They would rather have three separate chances to sell you expensive additional services.
After you choose which credit bureau’s credit report you want, they will AGAIN try and get you to sign up for some sort of on-going credit monitoring, “free” credit score, or other pay service in addition to providing your credit report. Again, do not enter your credit card information. If it is asking for a credit card, you have clicked the wrong button, or have checked the wrong box and are signing up for a service you don’t want or need.
Free Annual Credit Score
Many people are confused by the fact that there is NO LAW requiring anyone to give you a free credit SCORE. You are only entitled to a free credit report. There are some services that offer a free credit score, but you’ll want to be careful using them as well. They’ll likely try and sell you something as well.
Credit Karma offers free credit scores. Credit Karma is legit, but it’s scores are estimates based on only one credit report. Credit Sesame also offers a free estimated credit score. You will want to be very careful with services like Credit Check Total which actually sign you up for costly credit monitoring when you get a “free” credit score from them.
The best way to get a legitimate free credit score is from your bank or credit union. Many financial institutions monitor your credit score on an ongoing basis. Sometimes, getting the last score they pulled for you is as simple as just asking, or check the website.
As with all things related to money on the internet, it is important to be informed and to know exactly what you are looking for, and making sure you get to the right place. Another good precaution is to generate a temporary or limited credit card number if your credit card company allows it. That way, even if you do fall for a scam, your liability is limited.