On Wednesday, December 1, the three nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – will begin processing consumers’ requests for free annual credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and requires the nationwide credit bureaus to provide consumers, upon request, a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months. Consumers in 13 Western states may request a free annual credit report beginning December 1. The Federal Trade Commission enforces the FCRA with respect to consumer reporting companies.
A credit report contains consumers’ identification information; payment history with different creditors; a list of inquiries made by various financial institutions; and information on the public record, such as foreclosures or bankruptcies. Consumer reporting companies collect and sell this information to lenders and other businesses that have a permissible purpose to obtain it.
“This new legal right gives consumers an important tool for protecting their identity and keeping track of their credit,” said Lydia Parnes, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “www.annualcreditreport.com is the only Web site from which consumers are legally entitled to receive a free annual credit report.”
Consumers who use the www.annualcreditreport.com Web site will be able to obtain their free report online. Consumers also may request a copy of their credit report by phone or mail – for these methods, consumers must fill out a standardized form. Free reports will be phased in across the country from west to east over a nine-month period. Consumers will become eligible on the following schedule:
- Beginning December 1: Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming);
- Beginning March 1, 2005: Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin);
- Beginning June 1, 2005: Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas); and
- Beginning September 1, 2005: Eastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia), Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories.
Consumers may choose to order free reports from all three nationwide consumer reporting companies at the same time, or stagger their requests over the course of the year. The law allows consumers to order one free copy from each company every 12 months. Consumers are eligible to order a free credit report any time after their state of residency becomes eligible – they are not required to submit their request within a certain period of time.
The consumer reporting companies are permitted to advertise the sale of other products on the annualcreditreport.com Web site, but cannot do so in a way that would interfere with or hinder consumers’ ability to request their free report. Consumers are not required to purchase any product to receive their free report.
The FTC has issued a new consumer education brochure, “Your Access to Free Credit Reports,” that explains why it is important for consumers to monitor their credit history, how to request a report, and how to dispute any errors. The brochure also reminds consumers that www.annualcreditreport.com will not send them e-mails or use pop-up advertising to persuade consumers to provide personal information for a free credit report. The FTC cautions consumers that e-mails and pop-up ads claiming to be from www.annualcreditreport.com are unauthorized and could be scams. To be sure their transaction is secure and their personal information is not at risk, consumers should close their Internet browser after obtaining their report. The FTC’s brochure is available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm. For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/credit.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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