The Northeast, the last region of the country to be entitled to yearly free credit reports, became eligible on September 1. Effective that date, under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) everyone in the country is finally entitled to access their credit information once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). This right has been rolled out on a regional basis since January, 2005.

Since we have been bugging you since very early this year about the importance of obtaining at least one if not all three reports each year, it is our responsibility to now issue some warnings about the practice.



So far as we know, there is absolutely no problem with ordering a credit report through the channels set up by the Federal Trade Commission in compliance with the Congressional mandate to receive these reports. Feel free and safe when you click on www.ftc.gov (which provides a link to the official site) or www.annualcreditreport.com to order your free credit report. To order by phone call 877-322-8228 or by mail print out the form available on anualcreditreport.com and mail to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Although we still agree with experts that you should order one report every four months; first from either Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion, and then from the remaining companies at four month intervals even obtaining one or two reports a year will enable you to monitor and prevent occasions of identity theft or to detect and eliminate errors on your credit report.

However, like everything on the Internet, there are potential risks. First, the Internet carries hundreds if not thousands of free credit report offers from mortgage officers, credit counselors, and from people whose real occupation you do not want to know. Some of these websites provide some valuable services to you such as quick quotes on mortgages or assistance in obtaining one, but the risk of supplying information about your Social Security numbers, bank account, or other sensitive information is simply too risky to describe. Do not request a free credit report from any of these sites!

Sandra Block, writing in USA TODAY a few weeks ago reported on problems even within the approved free report universe. Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies recently agreed to pay close to $1 million to settle charges levied by the FTC that it had lured consumers through the offer of free credit reports into paying $80 billed automatically on the consumer's credit card; apparently an undisclosed fee for subscribing to the company's credit monitoring service.

The many web sites that offer free credit reports are probably mostly benign. But do you need to have your personal information and especially your Social Security number floating out there among so many unknown parties? Hardly seems necessary where there is a relatively secure (well yes, there is that Experian thing) government sponsored web site.

Then, according to Ms. Block, there is what she calls "imposter sites" that strive to "hijack" consumers looking for those free credit report. These sites tend to use domain names that are close approximations of the legitimate web site names to hook people using search engines or who key in typos while accessing the real site. Researchers for the World Privacy Forum found 112 sites in June that were using close derivatives of the "annualcreditreport" name. These sites were the scary ones, phishing for private information to create mailing lists or to provide the basis for identity theft. A number of them were linked to porn sites.

To reiterate our previous multiple nags. You must order and review your credit report regularly and the fact you can do it free up to three times a year makes this easy. But you must be careful. Use the official website, watch your typing fingers, do not agree to pay anything to anybody and never, ever respond to a request for a credit card. Report any suspected problems or violations to the FTC at www.FTC.gov.

We have received many comments, questions and complaints about not being able to get a free credit report without a credit card. Please read the following article addressing these issues.