A credit report is a useful important document. It helps you obtain a mortgage, a new car, and a student loan. It can impact credit card approvals and maybe even a job application. Getting a free credit report can be safe if you are careful about the particular website from which you get it.

Three major credit reporting agencies provide credit reports: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.   These may be the safest routes to obtaining your credit history, which ultimately affects your personal credit score.

Key Takeaways

  • Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three credit bureaus that provide credit reports.
  • Phishing is a cybercrime that can occur when you request your credit check.
  • You can protect yourself from cybercrime by avoiding clicking on links to fraudulent sites.

Safely Request Your Credit History

The most common website from which consumers can receive free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com. In 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) was passed, allowing every consumer access to an annual free credit report. The three major credit bureaus worked together to create AnnualCreditReport.com for this purpose.

The website has SSL encryption and is considered a secure site. You may request your credit report from each agency yearly, and some consumers request one from each one every four months to receive free reports on a quarterly rotation.

Experian is the only credit agency that also provides your FICO score for free. If you want a credit score from either Equifax or TransUnion, you will have to pay a fee to the agencies.

Many major credit card issuers, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, offer cardmembers free credit scores. Interestingly, a growing number of credit card issuers are now offering free credit scores to anyone—not just cardmembers. For example, you don't have to have a credit card or an account with Chase or Discover to check your credit score for free.

Your credit history is different from your credit score.

Getting Free Reports

Going directly to the three credit bureau agency websites (Experian.com, TransUnion.com, and Equifax.com) is another alternative. While TransUnion will direct you to annualcreditreport.com, you can get a free credit report directly from both Experian's and Equifax's websites.

Each of these bureaus is required by law to supply consumers with a free credit report annually. If you are the victim of fraud, you may be able to receive free credit reports, and the law states that if a company takes action against you, you can receive free credit reports. This law includes insurance, or employment, or denial of credit, as well as any judgments or credit reports from collection agencies. Consumers must request the free reports within 60 days from the date of the suspected wrongful action.

Tips to Ensure Security

Phishing is a growing trend in the world of cybercrime. It is the act of portraying something legitimate to trick you into giving out your personal identification information, especially your Social Security numbers. Many of these phishing attacks occur through email or websites that look legitimate to the naked eye, but they are really set up to trick you. Here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Never click or proceed to a website from an email, as it will often lead to one of these fraudulent sites.
  • Always look at the website's URL in the address bar. If anything looks suspicious, such as the misspelling of a word, do not proceed.
  • Password protect your personal computers, pads, and mobile phones.
  • Beware of posting or offering any personal information on social media. Never give out or post your Social Security number or your actual birthday.

The Bottom Line

Free credit reports are a great tool for consumers to track and find ways to improve their credit scores. However, with cybercrime like phishing on the rise, it is important to be aware of the potential threats and only proceed to credible websites.