You've got a right to get a free copy of your credit report -- but figuring out just where to go to get it can be tricky because of a proliferation of similar-sounding Web sites on the Internet.
The official Web site mandated by Congress is www.annualcreditreport.com. There, consumers can order annual credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. People also can call toll-free, (877) 322-8228, or write to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
But those who roll the dice and use Google to search the Internet for "free credit report" will find site after site -- some of them owned by the major credit reporting bureaus -- offering not only the free reports but trying to sell credit-monitoring plans, insurance, advice and other products.
In a 2005 test, the World Privacy Forum found 96 Internet domain names that had similar names or close misspellings to www.annual creditreport.com, causing further confusion. Some of them are owned by "pay per click" domain companies that send consumers to sites that sell credit-related products.
Here are some tips:
Order your free annual credit reports through the official Web site, www.annualcreditreport.com, or call toll-free, (877) 322-8228, or write to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
If you are planning to apply for a loan in the near future, consider purchasing your credit score from one of the three major credit bureaus.
Close long-unused accounts that are listed as still active. Identity thieves can target unused accounts. If you close an account, ask that it be listed as "closed at the request of the consumer."
Avoid so-called "credit repair" services. There's nothing you can do to change a poor, yet accurate, credit history except to re-establish a good record by paying your bills in full and on time.
If you find errors, fix them immediately. File disputes in writing with the credit reporting bureaus and the companies or agencies that furnished the erroneous information, sending copies (not originals) of documents to support your case.
If you have a complaint about a credit reporting bureau, call the Federal Trade Commission at (202) FTC-HELP (202-382-4357) or write to Federal Trade Commission, CRC-240, Washington, D.C. 20580.
Here's contact information for the three major credit reporting bureaus:
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-024
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
For more information, check out the FTC's Web site, www.ftc.gov.