Your legal rights: Have you looked at your credit report lately?Major national credit bureaus maintain a “credit report” on virtually every American adult citizen.
From the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
Major national credit bureaus maintain a “credit report” on virtually every American adult citizen. Your credit report contains information about your bill-paying history, the number and types of accounts you have, late payments and outstanding debt.
Information in your credit report affects the interest rates you pay on credit cards and loans and whether you can get credit. It even may impact the price you pay for homeowners and automobile insurance.
An investigation by one consumer organization estimated that nearly 30 percent of credit reports contained serious errors, ranging from false delinquencies to accounts that did not belong to the consumer. Some consumers even learn they are victims of identity theft when they discover fraudulent accounts on their credit reports.
The bottom line is this: If there are mistakes on your credit report, you may be unnecessarily paying higher rates on your credit cards, insurance or loans.
Under federal law, everyone is entitled to request a free copy of their credit report once each year from each of the major national credit bureaus. It is a good idea for people to periodically review their credit report to make sure it is accurate, complete and mistake-free and that an identity thief has not opened fraudulent accounts in your name.
How to order your free credit report
You may order a free credit report once each year from each of the major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These three credit bureaus have set up a central website, phone number, and mailing address through which you may order your free annual credit report.
You may order your free annual credit report in any of these three ways:
•By phone: Call 1-877-322-8228. You should generally receive a credit report ordered by phone in 15 days.
•Online: Visit the website annualcreditreport.com. You should be able to access a credit report ordered online immediately.
•By mail: Write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Your report should generally be mailed to you within 15 days after your request is received.
You may request your free reports from all three credit bureaus at the same time. You may also order a free report from each company one at a time at different points in the year, which allows you to monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year.
When you order your free credit report, you will be asked to supply the following information:
•First name, middle initial and last name.
•Date of birth.
•Social Security number.
•Previous mailing address if you have been at your current address for less than two years.
For security reasons, you may request that your credit report contain only the last four digits of your social security number.
Avoid lookalike websites that charge you for your credit report
The official website for ordering your free credit report is annualcreditreport.com. There is no other official website for ordering your free credit report. Other “lookalike” websites purport to offer free credit reports, but their primary purpose is to get people to sign up for paid services.
One website run by one of the credit bureaus says it offers free credit reports, but it also enrolls people in “free trial” offers for credit monitoring services and, if the customer doesn’t cancel within the 30-day free trial offer, they get charged a recurring monthly fee.
Be extremely careful of free trial offers – they almost always come with strings attached and are designed to get you to sign up, sometimes unwittingly, for a paid service.
Also be wary of Internet pop-up ads claiming they are from annualcreditreport.com or any of the three national credit bureaus. They are either scams or attempts to sell you a paid product or service.
Disregard unsolicited offers to supply you with a free credit report. They are usually scams designed to dupe you into supplying your private information to an identity thief.
What to do if you
discover errors in your credit report
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, you have some legal protections if you discover inaccurate or incomplete information in your credit report. If you discover mistakes in your credit report, you may take these steps to correct them:
•Write to the Credit Bureau. You should write to the credit bureau and point out the mistakes. Your letter should contain a copy of your credit report with the incorrect information circled or highlighted. Your letter should explain why you believe the information is incorrect and should include copies of any documents that support your position. Your letter should ask the credit bureau to fix the inaccuracy.
The credit bureau must then investigate the disputed item, usually within 30 days. The credit bureau must forward your information to the creditor or other company that supplied the information, and that company must investigate the dispute and report back to the credit bureau.
The credit bureau must give you the written results of the investigation when it is complete. If the investigation results in a change to your credit report, the credit bureau must supply you with a free copy of your credit report.
•You should also write directly to the creditor or other company that supplied the information you believe to be inaccurate. Your letter to that company should contain the same information set forth in your letter to the credit bureau. Your letter should ask the company to fix the inaccuracy in its own records, in the records of any collection agency to which it referred any alleged debt, and with the credit bureau.
•If the credit bureau refuses to correct your report after conducting an investigation, you may write to the credit bureau and ask it to include a statement of your dispute in your credit report. The statement of your dispute must then be included in any future credit reports distributed by the credit bureau. You may also request the credit bureau to send your statement of dispute to each creditor that requested your credit report in the last six months.
If you are a victim of identity theft
Some people discover they are a victim of identity theft when they order their free credit report and discover fraudulent accounts in their name. If you are a victim of identity theft, you should immediately take action to contain the problem, including:
•File a police report with your local police department.
•File a report with the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse.
•Ask the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert in your file so that creditors must contact you for permission before new accounts are opened in your name.
For more information on identity theft, you may order a free publication called “Guarding Your Privacy” from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
If a credit bureau or creditor refuses to correct inaccurate, incomplete or outdated information on your credit report or for more information or assistance, you may contact the following agency for assistance:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson Consumer Protection, 1400 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; (651) 296-3353; 1-800-657-3787; TTY (651) 297-7206; TTY 1-800-366-4812.