Dear Ace: I have been trying to get my “annual free credit report” online. All the links seem to want money or sell me services I do not want or need. What gives here? Is one really able to get their free report online for free or is this just another scam to clip you out of $10 or sell you a membership?—Elgin Debt
Debt: Ace Atkins finds it hard to resist free online reports on pretty much anything, especially when the reports involve a quiz regarding his love life (www.lovetest.com) or when he will die (www.deathclock.com tells him it should’ve been yesterday). Despite their gimmicky TV spots, online credit card reports are not as interesting to Ace. Ever since his identity got stolen last year, Ace canceled his credit cards and only operates with the cash he keeps under his mattress. By the way, if you see a 12-year-old girl running up a Gamestop tab as “Ace Atkins,” please call the cops.
There are several ways to attain a full report on your credit history. You can directly contact one of the three major consumer credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, or Transunion—and request a report. These companies are legally obligated to give you access to your personal information once a year. Alternatively, you can Google “free online credit report” and end up on one of the many websites run by liars and scam artists who draw you in with a promise and end up with your wallet. Or you can visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the only website of its kind authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to give you a detailed report free of charge every 12 months.
Why should you obtain a credit report in the first place? For one, it keeps your record clean. If your report indicates that another “Elgin Debt” with your same social security number has taken out a bank loan, you can raise holy hell. It’s also a good idea to check periodically to make sure your personal information is accurate and no bills are outstanding. But keep in mind a credit report differs from a credit score. A credit score, which banks often use to determine individual interest rates, is not offered free online. You will still have to pay out of pocket for the mysterious FICO numbers that tell lenders how much of a credit risk you are. Ace’s risk quotient currently depends on how much that 12-year-old identity thief likes “World of Warcraft,” but you might be a safer bet.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.