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February 28, 2005

Miller: Order Free Credit Reports

Starting March 1, consumers are entitled to one FREE report per year from each of the three national credit reporting agencies.

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller strongly encouraged Iowa consumers to request copies of their credit reports - which are available free to Iowans starting Tuesday, March 1.

"This is better than a free lunch," Miller said. "I hope every Iowa consumer takes advantage of this new opportunity."

He said a new federal law kicks in Tuesday entitling Iowa consumers to get up to one free copy per year of their credit report from each of the three big consumer reporting companies -- Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax.

Miller urged Iowans to go to to order one, two, or all three credit reports. Consumers also can call toll-free to 877-322-8228, or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281.

"This makes complete sense," Miller said. "First: It's your information. You should study what the companies are reporting about you to creditors, insurers, employers and others who are reading your credit report," he said.

"Second, you may well catch mistakes, and you can get them corrected.

"Third, reviewing your report is an excellent way to be sure no one has stolen your identity -- by taking your name and Social Security number to open an account, for example.

"And, finally, it's free. Prior to March 1 credit reports cost Iowans about $9.50 apiece, (unless you were denied credit or were an identity theft victim.) Now we can get one credit report per year from each company for free."

Miller was joined at a news conference by Tina Moore - a Des Moines woman who only a few days ago realized she was a victim of identity theft. Moore realized it when a debt collection agency told her she owed over $300 on a cell-phone account opened in her name with her Social Security number, but at a different address. Moore herself never had an account with that cell phone company. The stolen-identity account apparently was opened several years ago.

"Tina did everything right as soon as this surfaced," Miller said. "She contacted the supposed creditor, and she started steps to clear it up. We'll give her the information she needs to get this sorted out, get her credit reports, and make sure her reports are accurate," he said.

"Checking your credit report is an excellent way to scan for unfamiliar credit card accounts or other signs of identity theft," Miller said. "This is a very valuable tool."

If people do spot questionable accounts or other mistakes on their credit reports - such as incorrect addresses or other errors - federal law gives consumers rights for disputing errors and making corrections.

Should consumers order all three reports at once? Miller said it is up to consumers if they want to get all three reports at once, or stagger their requests over the year. "If you are coming up to some big event affected by your credit rating, such as buying a house, you may want to check all three credit reports, since they can vary. Otherwise, you might want to stagger the three requests over the year as a way to check your basic credit record periodically and watch for identity theft and unauthorized accounts."

Should consumers request their credit SCORE? Consumers still must pay modest amounts to see their credit score, or "FICO" score. A FICO score is a three-digit score developed by the Fair Isaac and Co. and used by creditors to predict the likelihood that credit-users will pay their bills. Consumers may choose to purchase their FICO credit scores periodically, because the score can determine the rates they will pay for loans, mortgages and insurance.

Are there any pitfalls in requesting free credit reports? Miller cautioned consumers to be sure to go to (That's the joint site set up by the three credit reporting agencies as required by the Federal Trade Commission.) Miller said there may be other similar-sounding sites offering "free credit reports," but only if a consumer also buys other services such as ongoing "credit protection" or "credit monitoring."

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