You would have come across many tempting advertisements of websites that claim to offer free credit reports. Be cautious before you sign up for any such service as it may not be the credit report that you are looking for.
Only the Federal Trade Commission gives three free credit reports every year. You can get one credit report each from the three main credit reporting companies, Transunion, Experian and Equifax without any charges once in a year. These free credit reports are available on annualcreditreport.com.
Other websites do not give you free credit reports that you are supposed to get under federal law. Once they get you to sign up, they may charge you for many services that you do not need such as credit monitoring products. They often deceive the users into believing that they are getting the free credit reports to which they are legally entitled. There are various traps set by these sites for making you pay for their services, such as automatic charges after the end of the trial period and even charges for services that you did not opt for.
For example, the site may advertise that it will provide free credit reports if you give it your credit card number. Then it can use your credit card number to charge you for those supposedly ‘free’ credit reports. You may not even realize that you are being charged for these services until you check your statement.
These sites usually offer a free trial period during which most of their services are free. But if you do not go to the site and unregistered after that, then you get charged for the credit reports without any prior notification.
However, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act 2009 (or the CARD Act) stops these sites from making misleading claims about free credit reports. They will have to put a disclosure on their site that clearly explains the nature of their products. They also have to disclose that you will be charged after the trial period. This rule will also apply to TV and radio advertisements as well from September 2010.
Some of these sites have now stopped claiming that they offer free credit reports and they disclose that they just offer free trials or credit scores. But they might again try to come up with innovative ideas to attract customers, so be wary of any site offering free services related to credit reports.