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    FTC Free Credit Reports From

    In an effort to combat the increasing problem of identity theft, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set up a new website <A HREF=""> </A> where you can now get a copy of your credit report free of charge from all three of the credit report agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) each year. It should be noted that the credit reports must be ordered from the FTC site to get them for free. If you order your credit report directly from the credit report agencies' sites, you'll be charged a fee for the report. The FTC site was set up as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act enacted last December and there are no "hidden fees" as part of the report.

    While a number of websites on the Internet currently offer free credit reports, the free reports are subject to signing up for a trail membership of their credit report monitoring service and require a credit card. The new site is marketing free and no credit card is required.

    When you request your credit reports, you'll be asked to provide your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. In addition, the credit agencies may ask you for specific information to confirm your identity as a safety precaution such as the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. The free credit reports can also be ordered by consumers by calling toll-free 877-322-8228 or through regular mail by writing to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

    The free credit reports are being phased in over time by region to prevent the system from being overwhelmed. Currently only residents living in the following 13 Western states can get the free credit report: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Residents in the Midwest can get free credit reports beginning March 1, 2005, residents in the South beginning June 1, 2005 and residents in the East and US territories beginning September 1, 2005 (for a complete list of when the reports will be available please look below).

    While you can order all your credit reports at one time, you should consider staggering the three reports so that you receive one report every 4 months. By doing this, you can see how your credit report is changing over time and whether any mistakes you find have been corrected. It will also enable you to catch any possible identity fraud much quicker. The one exception to this would be if you are considering a large purchase such as a home or car where your credit score will be used to determine your eligibility. In this case, you would want to get all three credit reports right away so that any potential problems can be taken care of as soon as possible.

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    While the credit reports are free of charge, they will not include your <A HREF="">credit score</A>, the number produced by the credit report agencies that lenders use to measure the likelihood that you'll repay your debts. To obtain your credit score, you will have to go to the individual credit report agencies to order it. The price for the credit score is $4 to $8 each depending on which agency's score you choose.

    Once you've received your reports, you should review each one carefully as well as compare them to one another. The three credit reporting agencies handle tens of millions of pieces of information each year and it's estimated that a large number of credit reports contain incorrect information. Make sure that all the information contained in the reports are accurate. If they show late payments or other negative information that is incorrect, you'll want to challenge the incorrect information. Even a couple of incorrect late payments in your credit report can have a significant effect on what you pay in interest rates on your credit cards and other loans. You can get information on how to dispute errors you find from <A HREF="">the FTC</A> or <A HREF="">Consumer Union</A>.

    In addition to incorrect entries, check to see if there is any possible fraud within your reports. Check all the credit card accounts in your report carefully looking for any unfamiliar accounts. One of the most common tactics that identity thieves use is to open credit card accounts in your name and then make a large number of purchases leaving you with the bills. In addition, review the section of who has accessed your credit report recently. If you find that inquiries have been made by businesses outside your state that you can't account for, this may also indicate that identity theft is taking place. Another thing to look for are mistakes in identity. If a person has the same or similar name or address as yours, their information may have accidentally found its way into your credit report.

    Now that credit reports are free, there is no reason not to request them each and every year. Keeping tabs on your credit report is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against identity theft and make sure that all the information that your creditors are accessing is accurate.