Free credit reports can be a hassle to acquire

Free credit reports

Illinois consumers have been able to order free copies of their credit reports since last week — but figuring out just where to go can be tricky because of a proliferation of similar-sounding Web sites on the Internet.

The official Web site mandated by Congress is www.annualcredit 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 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.

Such a Google search done on Friday didn’t come across the official site,, until three pages into the listings, where it was the 30th entry.

An entry for the Federal Trade Commission, which offers a link to the official site, did better; it made the fifth listing.

“The credit reporting agencies aren’t doing enough to protect against consumer confusion,” said Norma Garcia, an attorney with the nonprofit Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

Garcia and other consumer groups had complained that until last Monday, outside links to the site weren’t working. Sites with more “hits” receive a higher ranking by the search engines, so it can help to have many direct links, Garcia said.

Bureaus defend policies

In addition, the World Privacy Forum found 96 Internet domain names that had similar names or close misspellings to www.annual, causing further confusion. Some of them are owned by “pay per click” domain companies that send consumers to sites that sell credit-related products.

In a Feb. 28 letter to the FTC, Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, charged that the big three credit reporting agencies were trying to suppress traffic to the official Web site.

Equifax spokesman David Rubinger said “technical difficulties” interfered with links from consumer groups and news organizations to the official site, and he added that the problem since has been corrected.

“Never since day one” did the credit bureaus intend to make it harder for consumers, said Rubinger, who said Equifax uses only one Web site,

Still, it’s easy to get confused. A consumer who types in, hoping to get to the official site, instead finds an offer for a $12-a-month credit monitoring package that’s been sold by a company owned by Experian.

Experian officials could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), one of the original sponsors of the legislation, said it was “horrible” that the official Web site was buried under so many other for-profit sites.

“We put up the information on our Web site . . . to try to facilitate, as easily as we could, that information to those people,” said spokeswoman Melissa Guido.

Garcia questioned the credit bureaus’ commitment to consumer education. “It’s a business that’s built on our personal information and it’s a lucrative business,” Garcia said. “They’re not making it easy for consumers.”

Rubinger said the official site has been “very successful” but did not have information about how many requests have been made or filled.

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This is a site that’s dedicated to helping those who need help with their credit and debt managment. A resource for the average citizen to arm themselves with the knowledge to take back their finances and once again control their own lives. Again having the power to control their own destiny.