Free Credit Report ? A Website Typo Could Be Costly


In 2003, Congress passed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions act (FACT), which made it possible for consumers to obtain a copy of their credit report for free. In fact, the legislation makes it possible for consumers to obtain one free report from each of the three main credit bureaus ? Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax, per year. All that is necessary to do so is to write, call or log on to the Website the credit bureaus have created for this purpose. Millions of Americans have done so, and the program has been called a success so far. There's just one problem ? unscrupulous individuals have created Websites with similar names, and consumers who type the names wrong have ended up at sites designed to steal their Social Security numbers.

At last count, there were more than two hundred registered domain names with names that were similar to the official annualcreditreport.com or which contained the phrase "annual credit report." Since it is quite easy to misspell a domain name, particularly a long one, many consumers have found themselves at sites other than the one they intended to visit. Most of these other Websites exist for the purpose of selling a credit report, rather than providing them for free, but others are designed to fool the consumer into providing personal information that the site owners may be able to exploit for personal gain. Other sites with similar names merely offer advertising or redirect visitors to porn sites.

What's to be done? Not much, it would appear. Several of the sites that were created to fool consumers into providing personal information have been taken offline, but others will undoubtedly follow. Any sites that are established outside of the United States are immune to U.S. law, so it may be difficult for authorities to take any action. Consumers who are not overly familiar with the workings of the Internet would be better off contacting the credit bureaus directly by mail or phone. Anyone who uses the Internet to obtain a copy of their credit report should make sure that they are typing the name of the Website accurately. Failure to do so may lead to involuntarily providing vital personal information to people who shouldn't have it.

?Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including End-Your-Debt.com, a site devoted to personal bankruptcy, debt consolidation and credit counseling, and HomeEquityHelp.com, a site devoted to information regarding mortgages and home equity loans.