Watch Out for "Free" Credit Reports That Aren't So Free

Ever since credit agency Equifax announced last month that hackers had compromised its databases this spring, it seems you can't get away from advice about what to do about it. A combination of credit freezes and credit monitoring dominates most of it, but Michael Mechanic, an editor at Mother Jones magazine, has been trying to get his hands on the latter, and he's run into some issues.

For an idea of the scope of things, Mechanic's blog post is titled "I've Been Trying to Get My Free Credit Report Online. It's Basically Hell." In short, he went down several rabbit holes trying to access either free or very low-cost credit reports as advertised by online services. He found instead that most of these websites wind up enrolling you in costly subscription services instead.

Sites like FreeCreditReport.com and ads for credit monitoring for as low as $1 often obscure notices that you're signing up for packages that may cost more than $20 a month. The information can be buried in the legalese of terms of service agreements or in small print on parts of a screen display you usually ignore.

Of course, thanks to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers are in fact entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major agencies. Save yourself the hassle and bookmark this one page: AnnualCreditReport.com. It's officially recognized by the Federal Trade Commission as the authorized gateway to your free credit reports. The website itself recommends you type in the URL to be sure you're not redirected to a copycat site. Read the full Mother Jones post to give yourself a taste of the trouble you can save yourself.