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Beware of Ads Offering “Free” Credit Reports You have probably seen those TV ads that show, with humor, the misfortunes that befall some- one with a bad credit rating. The ads say such problems could have been avoided if only the person had been aware of their credit score. They then invite you to visit a website to get a free credit re- port. The advertised websites are operated by credit bureaus to get you to sign up for credit monitor- ing services for a monthly fee. These services give real-time updates to customers regarding changes to their credit reports. This service is valuable to victims of identity theft who need to monitor credit activity under their name. But it may be a waste of money for most of us, whose credit reports don’t change quickly. Keeping a close eye on your bills, especially credit cards, and checking your credit report a few times per year is adequate for the typical consumer. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is watching this activity also. One credit bureau Experian has paid $1.25 million over the past five years to settle FTC charges that it misled consumers seek- ing a free credit report but ended up buying a monitoring service. So don’t go to an advertised website for a credit report. Federal law requires each of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to give you one free credit report every 12 months through a single site www.annualcreditreport.com. If you are smart, you can get three free credit reports each year by asking for your free report from each credit bureau at four-month intervals.
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