A reader: I have seen many offers on television touching on “free” credit checks, if one is willing to divulge financial information. I have always thought credit checks were the only service that was free from any financial institution, such as banks. I am suspicious of any agency making you think you are getting something for free, when it has always been so. If someone were to give financial information to these companies, how safe will that information be? Can this financial information be sold to other companies or individuals? If so, should there be a warning?
Action Line: Without knowing what company it is and exactly what they are offering “free,” it is difficult to give exact information. If you could get that information to me, I’d be happy to investigate further. However, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that the nationwide credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, provide you with a free copy of your credit report, if you request it, once a year. FCRA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
You can also go to www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the only website authorized by FTC to give you your free credit report. Again, you can get your report every 12 months. If you are offered free credit reports or free monitoring of your credit, the FTC advises that these offers are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. You may find that these “free” offers come with hidden services that are fee-based. Sometimes, you get a free trial period and then you will find fees charged to your credit card after the “trial” period ends. If you sign up and don’t cancel before the trial period ends, the company can start charging you fees.
If you apply for credit, employment, or insurance and are denied, the company that denied you must provide a copy of your credit report, too. You just need to ask for it writing within 60 days of the denial.
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BBB recommends that you check your own credit once a year to make sure the information that is being reported is accurate. This can help you guard your identity from theft. Anytime you give your credit information (Social Security number, credit card numbers, banking information, etc.), you risk the possibility of ID theft. Make sure you know who you are dealing with BEFORE you sign up for anything.
You also can purchase your report, if you want it more often than once a year. You will want to ask what they charge when you order them:
Equifax 800-685-1111 equifax.com
Experian 888-397-3742 experian.com
TransUnion 800-916-8800 transunion.com
If you go online, you can get your credit report immediately. If you call the toll-free numbers, your request will be processed and sent to you within 15 days.
As always, check out the company you are looking to do business with BEFORE you buy at www.bbb.org/ccie no matter what the offer is.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or email@example.com.