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Free Annual Credit Reports - What Consumers Should Know

CONSUMER ALERT

 BILL SCHUETTE

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 

The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

 

FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORTS -
WHAT CONSUMERS SHOULD KNOW
 

Michigan consumers can order a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies every year.  Consumers can order their free annual credit reports by mail, by telephone, or online.  To maximize your protection against fraudulent activity, order one report from a different company every fourth month.

 

ORDER YOUR FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORTS

  • Online
    www.annualcreditreport.com
    Caution:  Misspelling this site or using another site with similar words will take you to a site that will try to sell you something or collect your personal information.
     

These are the only ways to get free credit reports without any strings attached.  The "free" credit reports advertised by other sources are not really free!
 

We recommend that when you order you request that no more than the last four digits of your Social Security Number appear on copies of your credit report.
 

If you are a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to place a fraud alert on your file and to receive copies of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies free of charge, regardless whether you have previously ordered your free annual reports.  For more information on ID theft, including advice for victims and tips on prevention, review the Attorney General's Consumer Alert on ID Theft at: http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337_20942-230557--,00.html.
 

OVERVIEW

 

This Alert tells consumers:

  • why they should review their credit reports;

  • why they should be cautious if ordering their free annual credit reports online;

  • what precautions they can take if ordering by phone or mail;

  • what they should look for when reviewing credit reports; and 

  • where to turn for more information.

This Consumer Alert may contain links to websites of non-governmental organizations.  The Attorney General's Office lists such sites for the convenience of consumers and does not necessarily endorse specific positions of these organizations.

 

INTRODUCTION

Reviewing your credit reports can help you detect fraudulent activity early, allowing you to take effective steps to limit the headaches you may encounter if you are a victim of identity theft. Knowing what's in your report before you apply for a loan or a job may also be helpful.

You have a right to order your free annual credit report from each of the three major consumer credit reporting companies (CRC):  Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  However, it is not necessary for you to order all three at the same time.  

 

If you are a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to place a fraud alert on your file and to receive copies of your credit report from each of the three CRCs free of charge, regardless whether you have previously ordered your free annual reports.  For more information on ID theft, including advice for victims and tips on prevention, review the Attorney General's Consumer Alert on ID Theft at: http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337_20942-230557--,00.html. 

BEFORE YOU ORDER YOUR FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORTS

  • The three CRCs have established a single service for consumers to use when ordering free credit reports.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ORDER FREE CREDIT REPORTS DIRECTLY FROM THE CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES.
     
  • You will be asked to provide sensitive information in order to receive your report.  This is necessary to prevent ID thieves from obtaining copies of other people's credit reports. 
     

WARNINGS FOR CONSUMERS ORDERING CREDIT REPORTS ONLINE!

Beware of e-mails, banner ads, pop-up and pop-under Internet ads, and telemarketing calls that promise to obtain your "free annual credit report" on your behalf.  In particular, e-mail messages or internet ads claiming to be from www.annualcreditreport.com ARE LIKELY TO BE FRAUDS SEEKING TO TRICK CONSUMERS INTO SHARING THEIR PERSONAL INFORMATION AND, MOST LIKELY, BECOMING VICTIMS OF ID THEFT.  Forward scam e-mails to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

 

Consumers thinking about ordering their free annual credit report online should proceed WITH CAUTION and be aware of possible risks. 

 

  • Do NOT order credit reports using a computer that is accessible to the public unless you are CERTAIN that adequate safeguards exist to prevent:
  • "Shoulder surfing" - people watching or even photographing the information you enter on a computer in a public place;
     
  • Storage of your sensitive information on the computer, even if only temporarily.
  • Your right to free credit reports does NOT require you to purchase or subscribe to any services.  While you may decide to do so, you are not required to spend any money to exercise your right to a free credit report.
     
  • Carefully type in the address of the website, click on the link above, or copy and paste the address exactly as set forth in this Consumer Alert.
  • Even one mistyped letter could take you to a fraudulent website that looks and feels like a place to order credit reports but in fact has been set up by ID thieves to harvest your information.
     
  • Other sites with similar names exist and may try to sell you credit monitoring services.  Remember that the only website which allows you to obtain a free credit report WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED is www.annualcreditreport.com.

 

WHAT'S IN YOUR CREDIT REPORT?

Your credit report contains a collection of sensitive personal and financial information about you gathered from a variety of sources.

 

You can expect your credit report to contain:

  • Personal information, including your current and other recent addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security number, and birth information.
     
  • A detailed credit history, including information on loans, credit cards, and timeliness of payments.
     
  • "Public" records, such as bankruptcies, judgments, liens, etc.
     
  • A list of all persons or organizations who have requested a copy of your credit report in the last six months.  This list may be long and could include:
    • Requests by creditors;
    • Requests by you, the consumer;
    • Requests for promotional purposes.
      (These include prescreened credit offers, which you can elect not to receive by calling 888-567-8688 or completing the online form at www.optoutprescreen.com.)

 

Your report may also contain a statement of dispute you, or one of your creditors, may have submitted regarding a disputed item on your credit report.  Information on disputing errors on your report is set forth below.

 

WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT?

When you receive your reports, check each section carefully and determine whether you believe the information is correct.  Your report could alert you to fraudulent activity being carried on in your name by an ID thief or other inaccurate information that could affect your ability to obtain a loan.

 

In particular, be sure to review:

  • Your personal information:
    are there addresses or variations on your name that are wrong?
     

  • Statements of credit accounts:
    are there credit card accounts or other debts that you are not familiar with?
     

  • Potentially negative entries:
    are there unpaid debts listed on accounts you never opened?
     

  • Public record information:
    is this information accurate?
     

WHAT TO DO ABOUT INACCURATE INFORMATION 

  • Clearly identify the inaccurate information on your credit report and dispute it, IN WRITING, with both the CRC that issued the report with inaccurate information and any creditors with which the information is associated.
     
  • For more information, review the FTC's summary on disputing credit errors: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre21.shtm
     
  • If accurate information is not removed or reappears, you may wish to consult with a private attorney regarding possible legal actions.
     
  • Here is contact information for the 3 credit reporting agencies and links to their web pages informing consumers how to dispute inaccurate information:
     

Equifax - www.equifax.com
To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285
and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
For information on disputing errors, you may visit:
http://www.equifax.com/answers/correct-credit-report-errors/en_cp

 

Experian - www.experian.com
To report fraud, call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen TX 75013
For information on disputing errors, you may visit:
http://www.experian.com/disputes/how-to-dispute-app.html

 

TransUnion - www.transunion.com
To report fraud, call: 1-800-680-7289
and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
For information on disputing errors, you may visit:
http://www.transunion.com/corporate/personal/creditDisputes.page
 

  • If you believe you are a victim of ID theft, ask for a "fraud alert" to be placed on your file and request that no new credit be granted without your express, personal approval.  Ask how long your account will be flagged.  Record the expiration date of the fraud alert, and call back as this date approaches if you wish the alert to remain on your file.  Review the Attorney General's Consumer Alert on ID theft for further information: http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337_20942-230557--,00.html.   

YOUR RIGHT TO FREE ANNUAL CREDIT REPORTS FROM OTHER, "SPECIALTY" CREDIT REPORTING COMPANIES

You also have a right to order free annual credit reports from other "nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies."  These are companies that maintain specific types of files on consumers, such as employment history, tenant history, medical records, and insurance claims.  There are many specialty CRCs, and each must maintain a toll-free telephone number through which consumers may request a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.
 

Neither the FTC nor the trade association of credit bureaus (CDIA) has chosen to publicize contact information for the specialty CRCs, and the Attorney General's Office does not currently have access to a list of these toll-free numbers.  However, the following web page maintains a partial list of specialty CRCs and their contact information:  www.pirg.org/consumer/credit/reports.htm#special 
 

OTHER INFORMATION ABOUT CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES AND CREDIT REPORTS

  • You have a separate right, whether you order free annual reports or not, to receive credit reports if you are a victim of ID theft (see below) or you experience adverse action from a company that has ordered your credit report, such as a denial of credit or employment.  To learn more about circumstances that entitle you to receive a free credit report and for other information, review the FTC's summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act:  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre35.pdf
     
  • You have a right to order - for a charge - a copy of your credit score.   Your credit score is a number generated on the basis of your credit history - which may or may not be accurate.  Your credit score is used by lenders to evaluate your suitability as a borrower.  Errors in your credit report can affect your credit score and, in turn, your ability to get a loan or to obtain a favorable interest rate.  You are not required to order your credit score. 
     
  • You have a right to have your name removed from lists the credit reporting agencies sell for "prescreened credit offers" (such as unsolicited credit card offers) by calling 888-567-8688, or completing the online form at www.optoutprescreen.com.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:

 

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909

517-373-1140
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free 1-877-765-8388

www.michigan.gov/ag

 

 

Other consumer alerts from the Attorney General's Office are available at:

www.michigan.gov/agconsumeralerts.

 

Additional information is available at the FTC's website:

ID Theft Page:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

 

En Español:  
http://www.consumidor.ftc.gov/destacado/destacado-s0014-robo-de-identidad

 

 

 

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