How Safe Is AnnualCreditReport.com?

FT Contributor  | 

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?

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.

Secured Credit Cards

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.

AnnualCreditReport.com Features

AnnualCreditReport.com offers just one service, but that service is completely free. With the website, you can view your credit report from the three major credit bureaus once a year at absolutely no cost.

It may seem like a minor service, but it is actually a really big deal and the fact that it’s completely free means that there is no reason to not use it. By using AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free credit report, you can:

  • Catch Identity Theft. If someone steals your identity and tries to make purchases or take on debt under your name, that information can show up on your credit history. By reviewing your credit history once a year, you can spot inconsistencies and catch identity thieves before they completely wreck your credit score.
  • Spot Reporting Errors. Remember that the credit reporting agencies are not infallible. They can and do make mistakes. By checking your credit report once a year, you can catch these mistakes before making a big financial decision, like getting a new credit card or taking out a mortgage. 
  • Evaluate Your Overall Credit. Lots of big financial decisions in life will require you to take out a loan of some kind, whether it is an auto loan for a new car or a mortgage for your new house. No matter what you are doing, knowing how your credit stacks up can help you understand what you might qualify for and improve your negotiating position as you work with lenders.

What AnnualCreditReport.com Will NOT Do

AnnualCreditReport.com is an amazing value, since it is completely free, but you should remember that it is still a fairly barebones service. All it does is send you a copy of your credit report. It will NOT:

  • Monitor Your Credit. If you want complete credit monitoring, you will need to use a credit monitoring company. If you are just using AnnualCreditReport.com, you will need to manually check over your credit history for errors or inconsistencies.
  • Offer Credit Advice. AnnualCreditReport.com can not tell you how to improve your credit. So, if you are unhappy with your score after receiving your free credit report, you will need to seek out financial education on your own, using websites like this one to learn about credit and credit building.
  • Repair Your Credit. AnnualCreditReport.com will not fix any issues with your credit report, if there are mistakes on it. Instead, you will have to repair your credit yourself or seek out the help of a credit repair company to fix these negative marks.

How Does AnnualCreditReport.Com Work?

You can request your free annual credit report online at AnnualCreditReport.com. Make sure that you have the following information hand:

  • Your name.
  • Your date of birth.
  • Your social security number.
  • Your current residential address as your most recent previous address, if you have lived at your current residence for less than two years.

Once you enter your personal information, you will have the option to select which of the three major credit bureaus you would like to receive your credit report from.

Before you can see your credit report, you may be asked to answer a few more questions. It may be helpful to have records of your identity and financial activity handy in order to answer these questions. The purpose of these questions is to confirm your identity and make sure that no one else can see your credit report.

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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