Attorney General Lockyer Reminds Consumers They Can Obtain Free Copies of Their Credit Reports
Required Access Under Federal Law Takes Effect Today For Californians
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer reminded California consumers they can now obtain free copies of their credit reports once every year, starting today.
"This advance in federal law provides significant benefits to consumers," said Lockyer. "It helps them correct credit report errors that can affect their ability to obtain shelter, a job or a car. And it will strengthen protections against ID theft by helping consumers detect if someone has opened unauthorized accounts in their name."
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT) requires the three national agencies that compile credit reports – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – to provide consumers, upon request, one free copy of their individual reports annually. Each company must provide one free copy to every consumer who requests one.
The mandate will take effect in phases, starting in the West and moving east. It takes effect today in the Western states of California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The other effective dates are March 1, 2005 in Midwestern states, June 1, 2005 in Southern states and September 1, 2005 in Eastern states.
Under the FACT Act, consumers may order free reports from the three companies separately or at the same time. To maximize the benefits of the access, Lockyer advised consumers to order on a rotating basis: First order from one of the bureaus, wait four months, then order from the second, and then, four months later, order from the third. By repeating this process annually, he noted, consumers can monitor their credit reports regularly at no cost.
Lockyer urged consumers to not only request a free copy of their reports, but to examine them closely once they receive them. Studies have indicated up to 25 percent of credit reports contain major errors that can cause great harm to consumers by denying them a place to live, credit or a job. Many reports also may contain personal information that actually belongs to someone else, or outdated information about the consumer's residence and employment.
"This access provides consumers a powerful new tool to protect their credit and identities," said Lockyer. "But consumers have to use it wisely and effectively."
Lockyer noted the free reports will not include credit scores, which can be invaluable in helping consumers understand the decisions made about them by lenders, retailers and other businesses. Consumers should consider paying the nominal fee (typically $6 to $9) to obtain their credit scores, said Lockyer. But he urged consumers to use caution before purchasing other fee-based services offered by the three credit bureaus.
Equifax, Experian and Trans Union have established a centralized system for consumers to order their reports. Consumer can place orders online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by phone at 877-322-8228 or by mail at Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. For more consumer tips and answers to frequently asked questions go to http://www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/alert.htm .