Online Credit Query Could Be Risky Says LSU AgCenter Family Economist

Jeanette A. Tucker  |  7/2/2005 1:50:55 AM

News You Can Use For July 2005

A new report issued by the World Privacy Forum suggests that consumers might be better off requesting their federally mandated free credit report by phone or mail instead of ordering it online. You could be the victim of a cyber scam, according to LSU AgCenter family economics professor Dr. Jeanette Tucker.

Researchers analyzed two options: 1. The official Web site, https://www.AnnualCreditReport.com and 2. Close misspellings of the official Web site’s address to determine if any "phishing" or scam sites had been posted online. The study documented that 96 "imposter" Web sites exist.

World Privacy Forum reports the following:

• 28 of the imposter sites belong to Experian, a credit reporting agency.

• 68 of the imposter domains belong to or are hosted at "pay per click" companies.

• 50 of the 68 "pay per click" domains are live, and some are drawing consumers to inappropriate or risky Web sites. Some of these Web sites lead consumers to Experian or other credit companies commercial sites to capitalize on the credit bureaus’ affiliated marketing programs.

Additional concerns were found at the official AnnualCreditReport.com site. Researchers determined that the credit bureaus were blurring the lines between free service for consumers and those available at a cost.

For example, Tucker explains that the TransUnion section of the site pre-selects the option that provides consumers with marketing information and their information shared with affiliates and partners. Also, Experian and Equifax have potentially confusing navigation bars that may make it difficult for consumers to distinguish between the free areas of the credit report access system and those that require payment.

The World Privacy Forum challenges the credit reporting agencies to take the findings of this study to heart, clear the confusing information from the AnnualCreditReport.com domain and clean up the imposter Web sites.

Tucker offers several tips to access your federally mandated free credit reports safely:

• When placing a phone order for a free credit report (877-322-8228) request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be displayed on the reports that are being mailed to you.

• If you request that your credit report be mailed to you, be certain that it is sent to a secure mailbox.

• Understand that you are not required to provide your e-mail address to obtain a free credit report.

• If you elect to request your free credit report electronically, be absolutely certain that you have not mistyped the AnnualCreditReport.com address. If pop-up ads appear or you notice that the site is not secure, close your browser and start over. The address for a secure Web site will read "https://" instead of "http://". A padlock logo will also appear in the corner of your screen.

• If you use the https://www.AnnualCreditReport.com Web site to request your TransUnion credit report, be certain to look for prechecked marketing or newsletter offers. Uncheck the boxes, if you wish to decline these offers.

• Shared computers like those in libraries or other public places may inadvertently share your credit report information with others. Use only your own computer, or a trusted computer, to access your report online.

• Consumers with long or complex last names, or those with a strong regional accent may have difficulty using the automated phone request system. If you have problems using the phone system, the next preferred method is to request your free credit report by mail.

To request your credit report by mail, print and complete the request form available at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/credit/ycr_free_reports.htm. Fold and mail to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, at the address given on the form.

For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Source: Jeanette Tucker (225) 578-5398, or Jtucker@agcenter.lsu.edu

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