HELENA – There’s a simple way to check up on your financial health and avoid fraud. Each year, consumers are entitled to three free credit reports thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.
The act allows consumers to request a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).
You can request one from each bureau every year. That’s three, free chances to view your credit report.
Hannah Stiff, Marketplace Manager with the Better Business Bureau, said there is one clearing house that’s federally endorsed and approved to access those reports.
Annualcreditreport.com will walk you through the process of requesting those reports.
Stiff said you will need some personal information handy.
“They will ask for your social security number, so when you’re on annualcreditreport.com, be aware that you’re going to have to provide that social security number,” Stiff said. “Don’t do it at a coffee shop when you’re using public Wi-Fi. Make sure you’re with your secure Wi-Fi network.”
There are other sites that advertise a free report, but Stiff said you still have to be careful.
“There might not necessarily be a scam, but they’re misleading because they’re not actually free,” Stiff said.
Also be cautious with sites offering a free credit report but still asking for a credit card. That’s often a sign the report is not truly free.
By law, you’re also entitled to additional free credit reports in a few specific scenarios.
That includes if your financial application is denied, if you are unemployed and seeking employment, if you are receiving public welfare assistance and if you have reason to believe you’re a victim of fraud.
Keep in mind your credit report and credit score are two different things. Your credit score is based off of your credit report, but not all reports will also include your score.
Credit reporting bureau Experian provided us with the following tips to stay safe online:
Free credit report scams can be tricky and deceptive just like any phishing email you receive these days. If you did not expect to receive an email from a “free” credit reporting agency then you should be careful about clicking on any of the links in the email. Furthermore, you should be hesitant about the services that are being offered. Some general tips for any suspicious emails you receive are to:
· Check the actual email address – not just where you are reading where it says it was sent from, but the actual email address itself. With scams, the email addresses are usually not from the place they claim to be from.
· Google the website to see what search results come up to have a more informed opinion of the site and business. Sometimes you can search for “[Name of the Company] and scam” to see if anyone else has posted about their experience.
· Check with Better Business Bureau as well.
· Don’t do business online with a website that is not secure.