If you’re trying to get your free annual credit report and you’re asked to pay for anything, provide a credit card number, or enroll in a “free trial” subscription to anything at all, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. The free annual credit report guaranteed to you by US law is available only through the website established for that purpose by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Links to this website are provided by thousands of legitimate enterprises nationwide as a courtesy, without charge or obligation. Obtaining accurate information about your credit report is an important part of controlling your financial life, but there are plenty of malefactors — from unscrupulous business operators to outright thieves — who are trying to use your prudence against you. Knowing how they operate will help you protect yourself from them.
Annual credit report scams are run primarily by the credit bureaus themselves. Even though they're legitimate businesses, they've been caught trying to trick consumers into paying for what’s supposed to be a free annual credit report. After enactment of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, misleading but very entertaining television commercials promoted a “free” credit report, but consumers who logged onto the site found they were being pressured into enrolling in a credit monitoring service promoted by one of the credit bureaus. It was impossible to get the free report without enrolling in the "Free trial" subscription. If you canceled the service, you usually wouldn’t get charged, but if you forgot to cancel, your credit card was charged, and the credit bureau got paid for having provided you with what was supposed to be a free credit report.
Variations on this approach are attempted by other annual credit report scams. Like the credit bureaus, they try to trick you into accepting a service they offer, usually by disguising it as a “free trial,” and linking the free report to acceptance of the free trial. The free trial may be credit monitoring or some other financial service, such as banking or even another credit card. They then do their best to keep you from canceling the free trial until they can charge your credit card.
Some annual credit report scams, though, are operated by flat-out thieves. When applying for your free annual credit report, it’s this group that can most severely damage you. Generally indistinguishable from the second group — the legitimate enterprises trying to trick you into patronizing them — they’re really phishing scams that will use the data you provide to loot your existing accounts and to apply for new credit using that data. Their websites may look professional until you read their content, which often consists of terribly written copy with many grammatical and spelling errors.
The law says that each of the three credit reporting agencies is required, upon request, to provide you with a free credit report once a year. You can stagger the reports so that you receive a new one every four months. This can only be done through a single annual credit report website, operated by the FTC. There’s no need to go through an intermediary and expose yourself to one of the many annual credit report scams.