Many different services offer to check your credit score and provide you with free access to your credit report. Some of these provide you with a full credit report like the ones a credit card company or bank would see when you apply for a card or a loan. Other services merely give you a look at your FICO credit score and VantageScore.
One of the most popular credit report sources is AnnualCreditReport.com. This website provides access to credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, for free once per year.
You want to see the records from all three places because the reports may differ slightly from bureau to bureau.
AnnualCreditReport.com is a service from the three credit bureaus, so it is legitimate and operated by well-respected firms. The U.S. federal government also sanctions the site, which the bureaus use to meet the requirements for financial data access laid out in the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA).
The main question is: is it safe to provide your information to this website when you get your credit score?
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Is Annual Credit Report Safe?
When you get a credit report at Annual Credit Report, you will need to provide sensitive information, including your Social Security number, current address, and full name. If you moved in the past two years, you also need to provide your previous address.
Additionally, Annual Credit Report requires that you verify your identity by answering questions about past loans, credit card activity, previous residence, or monthly mortgage payment amount.
These checks make it impossible for someone with one piece of information, such as your name or Social Security number, to access your credit report. To impersonate you, someone would have to have access to all of your financial information.
Annual Credit Report encrypts all data on the site and when transmitting your information to the three credit bureaus. They also claim that they have firewalls and other cybersecurity measures to protect any information that they retain.
That said, no databank is entirely secure. In 2017, Equifax, one of the three firms involved in the Annual Credit Report site, was the victim of one of the most significant data breaches in history.
Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA)
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) is a law enacted in 2003 to enhance consumer protections. It mandates, among other things, that consumers have the opportunity to access their credit report once per year. AnnualCreditReport.com is the government-sanctioned site that offers this access.
Interestingly, the law also requires that businesses provide extra protection to guard against identity theft. This part of FACTA requires that financial companies take security measures, such as requiring additional verification steps, to catch identity theft attempts.
An example of these extra steps is the additional security questions that you have to answer about your finances when you log into AnnualCreditReport.com.
FACTA may make it more difficult or time-consuming to get your credit report, complete a loan application, or report a change of address to your bank. However, these protections are meant to protect against identity theft as required by FACTA.
Can Annual Credit Report Get Hacked?
While AnnualCreditReport.com has security measures such as internal and external firewalls, identity verification procedures, and enhanced cybersecurity, its databases are not impenetrable. The site says that while safeguards are in place, they cannot guarantee that the information is 100% secure.
In 2017, Equifax, one of the three credit bureaus that offered its report through Annual Credit Report, was the victim of one of the biggest data breaches ever. Nearly 150 million Americans had their data stolen from Equifax databases.
Equifax settled a lawsuit by offering free credit monitoring services to victims. However, the incident showed that even major firms with data security practices in place could be vulnerable to hacks.
Those who lost their information due to the breach need to monitor their Social Security number for evidence of identity theft-related activity.
What to Do With Your Free Credit Report from AnnualCreditReport.com
Once you have obtained your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, how should you use it?
A credit report contains information that you can use for several different purposes.
- You can read your credit report to understand your current financial situation before applying for another credit card, loan, or mortgage. You should be able to use the report to gain insight into your chances of getting your credit application approved.
- You can look for any errors in the report. The credit bureaus offer ways to dispute errors. If you can correct an error on your credit report, you may be able to increase your credit score immediately.
- You can find habits or practices that are hurting your credit score. Your credit report includes information about late payments and credit utilization that could lower your credit score. Once you define the areas where you need improvement, you can go about fixing them.
- You can look for any unauthorized credit card accounts. Seeing such statements on your credit report is an easy way to check if you have been the victim of identity theft.
- You can decide if you need to enlist a credit repair company’s services to help you dispute charges or mistakes on your credit report.
- You can make sure that your credit card issuers and banks report your financial performance to credit bureaus. Credit report companies get information from lenders and credit card companies, so you should make sure that your activity is getting reported.
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