February 25, 2005
Jefferson City, Mo. — Missourians should take advantage of the upcoming opportunity to order free copies of their individual credit reports, Attorney General Jay Nixon says. Beginning March 1, a recent change in federal law requires the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies to provide residents of Missouri and 11 other Midwestern states with free copies of their credit reports upon request, once every 12 months.
"Reviewing your credit reports on a regular basis can help you spot not only inaccuracies that could hurt your credit rating, but also fraudulent attempts by identity thieves to steal your credit," Nixon says.
The three credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and Trans Union — have set up a Web site for consumers to order their credit reports. Consumers will need to provide their name, date of birth, and Social Security number. For security purposes, the credit reporting companies also may ask consumers for information only the consumers would know.
Those who use the Web site should be able to access their information immediately. Consumers also may order the credit reports by calling toll-free 877-322-8228; information requested that way will be mailed within 15 days. Consumers who wish to mail in a request can obtain a form from the Federal Trade Commission.
Information in a credit report often includes a person's address; a payment history of bills; and whether the person has been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. The information is used by employers, creditors, insurers, lending institutions and others to evaluate applications for credit, loans and jobs, among other things. Consumers may want to order their reports from each of the three credit reporting companies because each report may contain different information not contained in the other reports.
Nixon says the recent news that identity thieves had stolen personal information on approximately 145,000 Americans from the data collection business Choicepoint highlights the need for consumers to obtain a copy of their credit report.
"There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft or minimize its impact if it happens to you," Nixon says. "Checking your credit report should be part of that process."
Identity thieves can use personal information such as Social Security or credit card numbers to open up accounts in their victims' names. When bills on those accounts are not paid, the delinquent information would show up on the credit reports of the victims.
Under the change to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the free reports are being phased in across the country over a nine-month period, which began with states in the West on Dec. 1, 2004. Besides Missouri, the other states being phased in on March 1 include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Consumers can request their free credit reports any time after their states are phased in; there is no deadline by which they have to order the report.
If consumers find inaccurate information in their credit report, they should contact the credit reporting company in writing to tell the company what information they believe is inaccurate. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the person, business or organization that provided the information are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information.
Nixon also cautions consumers to beware of "phishing" attempts that might be related to the free credit reports. The three credit reporting companies and www.annualcreditreport.com will not send consumers e-mails asking for the personal information. Any e-mails or pop-up ads claiming to be from annualcreditreport.com are most likely scam attempts, Nixon says.