According to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003, all Americans are entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. This means that you can see how you stack up with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every year. The easiest way to do so is by visiting the official, centralized source at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is a beneficial tool that helps consumers of the United States to manage their credit better and was a milestone in credit reform at the time.
Unfortunately, over time this site was thrust into obscurity by commercial sites that intended to use the credibility of the official website to market their financial services. This is not illegal, but it did create some confusion and upset the market a little, which is what lead to more reformation and the development of the Credit CARD Act of 2009. CARD stands for Credit Responsibility, Accountability, and Disclosure, and this rule obviously applies to the companies who overtook search engines with their marketing. This redirected consumers to their commercial sites instead of the free government pages. This led to many consumers paying “various sums for unwanted services when they attempted to obtain what they thought was their free annual file disclosure,” according to a source at the FTC.
First of all, the new rule requires that all commercial sites post a disclaimer on each page that states:
You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228,
the ONLY authorized source under federal law.
This disclosure disclaimer contains links to the FTC and to the authorized site on websites, via a button that says “Take me to the authorized source,” but in print ads or radio spots the links, of course, are ignored. These posts must be made to be very distinctive, colored differently from the background and set up in a way that draws attention to it. To be fair, these disclaimers do already exist, but they are nowhere near what are required today.
Similarly, radio and television ads must also have disclosures. All television ads must also display the disclaimer, while radio spots need to announce them. Televisions formatting requires that the ad be displayed on screen for a minimum of four seconds while radio ads must place the ad in “close proximity” to the first mention of “free credit report” so that there is no confusion.
If you visit a commercial site, whether on purpose or by accident, you will see this disclaimer and will not be offered any service until you have actually ordered and obtained your free credit reports. According to Tiffany George, attorney of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the FTC, “Previously, there were hyperlinks to the three nationwide credit reporting agencies on the front page. People would click on those and they would get taken to the commercial site and taken away from ‘Annual Credit Report’ without realizing it.”
Ironically, there is nothing in the FACT Act that stipulates the mandating of annual free credit scores from a centralized source. If you send people to ‘Annual Credit Report’ from an advertisement marketing a free score, it might confuse people who want a free score but can only find full reports. Similarly, this new provision only applies to sites that are strictly commercial and require you to provide payment information. Obviously, any site that asks for your payment information is not in it to provide free reports to you. However, if a site truly offers access to your free credit report, the rules do not apply. Tiffany George continues to say, “If they are purely advertising free credit scores, the rule doesn’t apply. The Credit CARD Act only specified that the rule would cover free credit reports.”
For the most part, these commercial sites didn’t actually charge you for your credit report. Usually their offer was for you to get a free credit report as a bonus incentive for using their credit monitoring program. There are no free credit monitoring programs, so if you are interested in something like that, then these offers will definitely benefit you. However, if you simply just want to be able to look at your credit score periodically throughout the year, you could order a free credit report every four months, since there are three companies. You won’t necessarily be able to get your score, but with the information provided you can use online sources to determine that.