PRIVACY + SECURITY BLOG

News, Developments, and Insights

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The Free Credit Reports That Aren’t Free

Free Credit Report

You’ve probably seen the commericals, which run incessantly on CNN and other cable channels. A happy young man says: “I’m thinking of a number . . . ” That number is a credit score, which you can obtain at a website called FreeCreditReport.com. You probably have heard that under a new federal law, credit reporting agencies are required to provide each person with a free credit report once a year. That website, however, has the much more obscure name AnnualCreditReport.com. I previously blogged about my experiences using AnnualCreditReport.com. One of the problems is that if you don’t know that the correct website is AnnualCreditReport.com, then it is very easy to go to the FreeCreditReport.com website. After all, it is featured quite prominently in a Google search for “free credit report.”

But there’s one catch — it ain’t free. Far from it. From the fine print:

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Private vs. Public Sector Responses to Data Security Breaches

Data Breach

I just blogged about the massive data security breach by the Veterans Administration, affecting 26.5 million veterans. Bob Sullivan has a terrific post comparing the government’s response to its data security breach to that of the businesses that have had such breaches in the past:

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Free Credit Reports: My Exciting Adventure

Credit Report

Under the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, the credit reporting agencies must provide a yearly free credit report to individuals who request it. This was one of the benefits given to consumers by the law in return for extending the federal preemption of certain state law regulations.

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Hurricane Katrina and Credit Scores

Hurricane Katrina

Bob Sullivan at MSNBC writes:

A second storm surge may soon start slamming into Gulf coast residents hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mounting unpaid bills will lead to a surge of black marks on victims’ credit reports, say consumer advocates, sinking their credit scores. And now, they say, efforts to convince the nation’s credit bureaus to develop new systems to account for victims’ temporary bill-paying troubles have hit a major snag.

Consumers who can’t make their house payments any more – even if that house has been completely swept away by the storm – may face the ultimate penalty in America’s credit-driven society: A credit score so low they won’t qualify for the loans they need to start rebuilding.

Consumer groups, anticipating the coming surge of late payments and account defaults, have asked credit bureaus to help. The consumer groups proposed that the bureaus take a pre-Katrina credit score snapshot of all residents in the affected areas. Later, when victims apply for loans, the pre-Katrina score could be used to identify whether victims were good credit risks before the storm.

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How Credit Reporting Agencies Are Scamming the Free Credit Report Requirement

Free Credit Report

This year, pursuant to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003, credit reporting agencies must provide people with one free credit report per year.   This is gradually being phased in this year.  People can obtain their reports from this website: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp.

Earlier this year in his blog, law professor Eric Goldman discussed the difficulties and inconveniences he experienced when attempting to obtain his report.

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