After a conversation with one of my clients, a couple of days later she sent me this column, which (while unverified) I thought was both interesting and infortmative.  Thanks, Ellen! – Reeve


AnnualCreditReport.com Scam or Legit? See My Review For 2013

Posted by Michael on the creditcardforum (AnnualCreditReport.com Scam or Legit?)
AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website for free credit
reports that is mandated and authorized by the federal government. But
it’s still a bit sketchy…

In 2003 President Bush signed into law the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act.
One of its provisions required each of the 3 major credit bureaus
(Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to provide consumers free access to
their credit reports every 12 months.

This gave birth to the AnnualCreditReport.com
website, which contrary to popular belief, is not a government ran
site. Rather, it is operated by Central Source LLC, which is a joint
venture created by the three credit reporting agencies.

Perhaps Central Source LLC needs to take a good hard look at the
complaints I am hearing from consumers, because many feel the Annual
Credit Report website is a bit scammy, in some regards.

Complaint #1: Misleading Name

First and foremost, let’s talk about the name.

We all remember that imposter website, FreeCreditReport.com, which
took a lot of criticism for its similar sounding name (sidenote: they
now focus on their other site, FreeCreditScore.com instead). But in all fairness, it’s not like AnnualCreditReport.com has the best name either.

Why? Because with the word “annual” in there, many people assume that means once per year.
They think it means they can check their credit report from each of the
3 bureaus once per calendar year (example: Check Equifax once in 2013,
once in 2014, and so forth).

Unfortunately, that’s not how it actually works. Rather than going by calendar year, it goes by every 12 months.

When the end of the calendar year rolls around – like Oct,
Nov, and Dec – I regularly hear from consumers who rush to check all 3
credit reports, thinking the clock will reset on January 1st. It’s not
‘til the following year when they discover they will have to wait 12
full months after checking before they can do it again. If they would have known that, they wouldn’t have checked all 3 at the same time.

Embarrassing fact? At one point I even believed this was how it worked and made that same mistake.

Complaint #2: Misleading Credit Score Ads

When using the Annual Credit Report website you will be bombarded
with paid ads; some clearly identified as such, others not so much.

The TransUnion report is the one I hear the most complaints about,
the one that most people allege feels like a scam. Here’s why…
"free" credit score
The “I want my free credit score” is an advertisement and so is the Score tab which is next to the Report tab at the top.

Click and you will be taken to this page (I took this screenshot in an earlier year):

"free" credit score - page 2 for offer

It’s not ‘til after you click the “FREE SCORE” button above where you
are taken to a page which fully explains that you are actually
enrolling in a 7-day trial. Yeah, technically it is free but if you
don’t cancel, you will be automatically billed at the regular price
(which was $14.95 per month last I checked).

"free" credit score - page 3 for offer

Now in all honesty, I actually don’t have a problem with these types
of “free” trial offers. I don’t think they are a scam as long the terms
are clearly and prominently identified (in order words, if the consumer
truly knows what they’re signing up for).

But when you look at the way TransUnion is peddling this, in my
opinion it is done in a less transparent manner than some other
websites. Even the highly criticized “free” trial websites of
FreeCreditScore.com/FreeCreditReport.com seem to be more upfront.

So talk about irony… everyone promotes AnnualCreditReport.com like it’s the
best thing since sliced bread, as if it can do no wrong. But in
actuality, it *might* mislead a consumer just like the other sites do.
Think about it… would your grandma be confused by that bright red “I
want my FREE Credit Score!” link? I know mine would, especially if she
erroneously believed she was on a government website.

Complaint #3: Website Not Working

I have heard people allege that there is some sort of
AnnualCreditReport.com scam going on when they can’t access the website.
Their theory is that it’s allegedly used as a trick, to deter them from
the free report and instead, go to credit bureau’s website directly and
buy a report.
site not workingCoincidentally, while writing this review I actually encountered Experian not being available (pictured left).

But does this make AnnualCreditReport.com a scam? Definitely not. That conspiracy theory is nonsense.

When a bureau is unavailable like this, it’s probably due to routine
site maintenance or some other temporary issue. If that happens, just
check back later and it should be working. For me, that message was gone
20 minutes later.

Conclusion? This is frustrating to encounter but don’t worry, this is NOT a scam. Just be patient and return a bit later.

Complaint #4: Can’t Confirm Your ID

A couple times when I’ve used the AnnualCreditReport.com website, I
wasn’t able to pull all my reports. A message would be spit back saying
they can’t confirm my identity and to get the report through this site, I
would have to jump through hoops to validate my ID. If I recall
correctly, it involved mailing in proof.

On the forum I have seen people say there is a scam going on when
this happens. Well guess what? It’s not a scam or trick. The truth is
that they really do have to validate you’re the real deal before handing
over your personal report. So these complaints are 100% baseless in my
opinion.

Complaint #5: Peddling Identity Theft Protection

ID theft protection

Thanks to all those TV commercials for LifeLock and Identity Guard, the
business of selling monthly ID protection subscriptions seems to be
hotter than ever (but it’s debatable whether they’re justified).

So I guess it comes as no surprise that over the last few years, now
we not only have to endure ads for credit scores, but also ID
monitoring. But fortunately, thus far I haven’t seen any which are
confusing like some of the credit score ads are.

But at the end of the day…

…this is still by far the best site to get your credit reports for free. Despite the complaints, AnnualCreditReport.com is NOT a scam.

Sure, the quality of AnnualCreditReport.com is going down as the numbers of ads go up, but it’s still the only legit place you can get a truly free report without having to enroll in some trial offer… as long as you don’t do so accidentally!