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Our credit report is part of who we are. It details our financial history to lenders and mortgage companies, banks, and credit card companies. In order for most people to buy or lease a car, obtain a credit card, or purchase or refinance a home, they must be sure that their credit is as good as possible.
By obtaining a credit report, we can review what our credit history looks like to the world. We’ve all seen the commercials on television for Free Credit Reports, but can these companies be trusted? There are actually many scammers out there who are looking to take advantage of innocent people by setting up fake websites and stealing their financial information and committing identity theft. Actually, there are well over 100 websites designed to scam consumers with fake “free credit reports” sites. In order to protect the public, the Federal Trade Comission (FTC) has established a list of precautions to take whenever you respond to email offers for credit reports or websites that supposedly provide your report to you.
- If you get an email offering a credit report, don’t reply or click on the link in the email. Instead, contact the company cited in the email using a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited email offering credit reports. Keep an eye out for email from an atypical address, like [email protected], or an email address ending in a top level domain other than .com, like .ru or .de.
- Check whether the company has a working telephone number and legitimate address. You can check addresses at Web sites like www.switchboard.com, and phone numbers through reverse lookup search engines like www.anywho.com.
- Check for misspellings and grammatical errors. Silly mistakes and sloppy copy – for example, an area code that doesn’t match an address – often are giveaways that the site is a scam. Look at the company’s Web address: is it a real company’s address or it is a misspelled version of a legitimate company’s Web address?
- Check to see whether the email address matches the Web site address. That is, when you enter the company’s Web address into the browser, does it go to the sender’s site or re-direct you to a different Web address? If it re-directs you, that’s a red flag that you should cease the transaction.
- Find out who owns the Web site by using a “Whois” search such as the search at www.networksolutions.com or www.whois.sc
- Exit from any Web site that asks for unnecessary personal information, like a Personal Identification Number (PIN) for your bank account, the three-digit code on the back of your credit card, or your passport number and issuing country. Legitimate sites don’t ask for this information.
- All legitimate sites will want to verify who you are, and will respond to an electronic request for a credit report by asking you for an additional piece of information. If a site does not ask a follow-up question, the site is almost certainly a fake.
- Use only secure Web sites. Look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar, and the phrase “https” in the URL address for a Web site, to be sure your information is secure during transmission. All real sites are secure.
- Watch your mailbox and credit card statements: If you’ve responded to a bogus site, you may never receive the credit report they offered for free. If you paid one of these sites for a credit report, your credit card may never be charged. If you find that you have unauthorized charges, contact your financial institutions and credit card issuers immediately.
- Report suspicious activity to the FTC and the U.S. Secret Service. Send the actual spam to the Los Angeles Electronic Crimes Task Force at [email protected] and to the FTC at [email protected] If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Web site (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from identity theft.
We’ve put together a page of resources on Credit Reports and FICO Scores.
Remember, under Federal Law, all U.S. citizens are entitled one Free Credit Report every 12 months, from all three nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (to learn more about TransUnion, click here). To obtain that free report, you must go to AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the Only Official service authorized by the 3 agencies.