Is It Safe To Request a Free Credit Report?
Your credit score is one of the most important components of your financial health. A strong credit score can help you purchase a new home or reduce the interest rates that you pay on loans.
But while it’s essential to check your credit regularly, not every credit check service is legitimate. In some cases, “free credit score” services can even put you at risk of identity theft or financial fraud.
According to a 2022 report from FICO [*]:
“Up to 40% of Americans had their stolen personal information used to open new financial accounts last year.”
If you want to check your credit score or get help with credit counseling, you need to be sure that you’re dealing with a legitimate service.
In this guide, we’ll explain how credit score scams work, the latest scams to look out for, and how to safely obtain a free credit report.
What Are Credit Score Scams? How Do They Work?
Credit score scams occur when fraudsters pose as legitimate websites, companies, or government agencies and offer free credit scores or credit repair services. But in reality, the entire scenario is designed to scam victims out of money and sensitive financial information.
These scams are especially dangerous because many people don’t understand their rights as consumers or how credit scores work.
By law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. However, many people need to check their credit report, FICO score, or personal credit history more frequently, such as when talking to lenders about loans or mortgages.
Scammers take advantage of these situations to steal sensitive information and money.
Here’s how credit score scams typically work:
- Scammers create fake websites that offer “free credit reports” or pose as credit repair services.
- If you request a free credit score: You’ll receive an email saying that your credit score has changed, along with a link to view the supposedly new score. But when you click on the link, it takes you to a phishing website that requests sensitive information — such as your Social Security number (SSN) or credit card number.
- If you sign up for fraudulent credit repair services: You’ll most likely be asked to pay an upfront fee (which is illegal under the Credit Repair Organizations Act [*]) or be charged for useless services or credit repair scams (such as CPN numbers).
- Any money or information that you send to scammers will be lost or used to steal your identity.
The bottom line: Always be cautious when giving out your personal or financial information — especially your SSN. For added security, monitor your SSN with Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection solution. Try Aura free for 14 days and safeguard yourself against scammers.
The Latest Credit Score Scams To Watch Out for in 2023
- Phishing emails that claim your credit score has changed
- Fraudulent credit repair companies
- Fake rental listings or job opportunities
- Look-alike websites offering free credit score checks
- Spam calls that offer “special interest rates”
Credit score scams can be devastating when scammers gain access to your credit and rack up debts in your name. By learning how to recognize these most common credit score scams, you can avoid becoming a victim:
1. Phishing emails that claim your credit score has changed
In this scam, fraudsters send phishing emails that look like they’re from legitimate companies, such as your bank or a credit monitoring agency.
The emails claim that your credit score has changed, and provide a link to a website that supposedly lets you check your score. However, if you click on the link, you’ll be taken to a fake website that steals your sensitive information.
For example, in 2017, hackers leaked sensitive data from nearly 148 million Equifax customers [*]. Scammers used this information to send targeted phishing emails that contained links to malicious websites.
💡 Related: How To Tell If an Email Is From a Scammer →
2. Fraudulent credit repair companies
You may see ads on TV, in newspapers, or online from agencies that claim to be able to “fix” a bad credit score or history — for a fee. However, removing legitimate negative credit information is not only impossible; it’s illegal.
This isn’t to say that all credit counseling services are scams. But, if you see any of these red flags, you could be at risk of losing money or data (and committing a crime).
How to spot a fraudulent credit repair company:
- They ask for an upfront fee.
- They promise to fix or raise your credit score.
- They talk about “piggybacking” on someone else’s credit report.
- You’re told to not contact the credit reporting agencies yourself.
The bottom line: It takes time to build a good credit score. If inaccurate information is harming your credit, you can contact each consumer reporting company to correct errors.
💡 Related: How Long Does It Take To Repair Your Credit? →
3. Fake rental listings or job opportunities
These listings are used to trick job and apartment hunters into sending money, providing sensitive information, or visiting fake credit score websites.
While some rental applications may require a credit score, you should verify the listing’s authenticity before providing any sensitive information.
💡 Related: The 6 Latest Rental Scams (and How To Avoid Them) →
4. Look-alike websites offering free credit score checks
AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website sanctioned by the federal government to provide a free credit report.
However, this doesn’t stop scammers from creating fake websites that look like real sites to scam unsuspecting victims. These fake sites often have similar-sounding names to legitimate sites (but contain small misspellings in the actual site names), or include the word “free” in the URL.
To ensure you’re on the official AnnualCreditReport website, check for a padlock symbol near the URL. If you click on it, you’ll be able to see if your connection is secure (along with details of the site’s security certificate).
To complicate matters more, even legitimate credit check websites can sometimes put you at risk. For example, Credit Karma — a website that provides free credit scores and insights — was recently fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegedly tricking consumers with fake pre-approved offers [*].
Pro tip: You can request free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com every week until the end of 2023.
5. Spam calls that offer “special interest rates”
If you receive a phone call (or robocall) that offers a “special” rate for a loan or credit card, there’s a high chance that it’s a scam.
Fraudsters pretend to be from banks, credit card issuers, or other lenders, and claim they can fix your credit issues. But during the call, they ask for personal or financial information to “help” with your claim.
💡 Related: How To Identify Phone Scams (15 Examples) →
How To Identify (and Avoid) Credit Score Scams
Checking your credit score is an integral part of maintaining your personal finances. But spotting a credit score scam isn’t always easy. Here are some of the main red flags that you should look out for when checking (or trying to repair) your credit score.
Look for signs of a phishing email
Phishing emails appear to be from people or organizations that you trust — such as banks or government agencies. Scammers use emotional language to create a sense of urgency and get you to act without thinking.
For example, you might receive an email claiming your credit score has changed or that new accounts were created in your name.
Here’s how to tell that you’re dealing with a credit score scam phishing email:
- Check the sender’s email address for unusual letters, numbers, or endings — especially if the sender claims to be from a trusted source like your bank or credit card. No authentic organization will contact you using a personal email address domain (such as Gmail or Yahoo!).
- Don’t click on links or attachments. These may send you to a fake website or cause you to accidentally download malware onto your computer.
- Do not reply to phishing emails. If you think there’s a chance that the email is legitimate, contact the company directly using the contact information on its official website.
- Secure your devices and accounts with antivirus software and Safe Browsing tools. Phishing emails almost always link out to fake websites. Aura’s Safe Browsing tools can warn you if you’re entering a potentially dangerous site.
Watch out for websites that aren’t secure or request sensitive information
Scammers create fake websites that claim to offer credit scores or financial help but actually steal personal and financial data. Whenever you’re looking for an online service, make sure that they’re using a secure site that will protect your personal information.
How to check if a website is secure:
- Look for a padlock symbol near the website’s URL and ensure that it uses “https://” — not “http://”.
- Research the company before submitting any personal information. Do a Google search for “company name + scam/review/legitimate” or check its listing on the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) scam tracker.
Stay away from anyone who promises to remove negative information from your credit report
Companies that guarantee they can remove negative information from your credit report are almost always scammers. Negative but accurate information cannot be removed from credit reports. Only inaccurate information can be removed.
If you need to remove inaccurate information, you can dispute it directly with each of the three major credit bureaus.
Be cautious about look-alike website URLs or email addresses
Scammers create websites and URLs that sound legitimate or look similar to well-known companies in order to bypass your suspicions. They may even replicate a company’s logos, copy, and designs to make their phony emails and sites look more legitimate.
For example, they could use “AnnuallCreditReport.com” to trick you into giving them your sensitive data. (In this instance, an extra “l” has been added to the word “Annual” which could be difficult to spot at first glance.)
In the first three months of 2022, the Anti-Phishing Working Group found almost one million new fake and phishing websites [*].
Warning signs of a look-alike URL
- The website URL contains misspellings, unusual numbers, or uses a legitimate-looking subdomain to trick you. When in doubt, always check what comes directly before the “.com” in the URL.
- An email’s formatting, colors, or images look similar to the actual company’s usual emails but may be slightly off. Messages and copy may also contain misspellings or grammatical mistakes.
💡 Related: How To Read Your Credit Reports (and Dispute Errors) →
Scammers use personal details that they’ve obtained from a recent data breach
Cybercriminals may use your personal information that was leaked in a data breach to trick you into thinking they’re legitimate. For example, if your Social Security number, phone number, or email has been leaked, scammers can use that information to lure you into clicking on links or sending them money.
In other situations, they may send phishing emails following a data breach that encourage victims to check their credit scores.
If you receive any suspicious emails, use Aura’s free Dark Web scanner to check if your information was recently leaked in a data breach.
Beware of any website or service that uses “free” in its name
While not always the case, if a website uses “free” in its URL, there’s a greater chance that it’s a scam. Most websites offering credit score or report services do not use “free” in their name or URL.
Always be careful when asked to provide credit card information
Many fake credit score sites will require you to enter your credit card information for a free trial. Unfortunately, scammers simply take your information to sell or use for fraudulent purchases.
The best way to avoid this scam approach is to not enter your credit card information in exchange for a free trial. Additionally, be sure to read any fine print carefully. Sometimes these sites sign you up for services with monthly charges.
💡 Related: The 7 Best Credit Monitoring Apps of 2023 →
Did You Accidentally Give Scammers Personal Information? Do This!
You should take immediate action if you’ve accidentally provided scammers with your personal or financial information. The faster you act, the quicker you can minimize the impact of fraud or identity theft.
Follow these steps if you think you’ve been the victim of a credit score scam:
- Contact your bank and credit card providers and inform them that you may have been scammed. You will likely be issued new credit cards.
- Contact the three major nationwide credit reporting companies — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. You will need to contact each bureau individually.
- File an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Secure your online accounts with new, unique, and complex passwords. Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for added security.
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly for any unauthorized charges or transfers. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you notice any fraudulent activity.
- Contact your credit card company if you receive any payments for a service that occurred through the scam. You can explain to the credit card company that you were scammed, which may result in their reversing the charges.
- Review your credit report for inaccuracies, and contact the credit bureaus if you notice inaccurate information.
How To (Safely) Request a Free Credit Report or Score
Federal law grants you a free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You can obtain your three free annual reports all at once or order one report at a time.
You may be able to receive additional free credit reports if you:
- Are denied employment, insurance, or credit based on information in your credit report.
- Are out of work and planning to search for a job within 60 days.
- Receive public assistance.
- Have inaccuracies on your credit report due to fraud or identity theft.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit file.
If you’ve used up all of your available free credit reports for the year, you can request more (for a fee) by contacting the credit bureaus, your credit card company or bank, or trusted online sources like Credit Karma.
However, credit reports typically don’t include a credit score.
In order to check your credit score, you’ll need to either contact your credit card issuer or a trusted credit monitoring service like Aura.
Aura’s robust identity theft protection includes monthly credit scores. You’ll be able to quickly check your credit scores, lock your Experian credit file with a single tap, and get alerted in near real-time to any potential fraud.
Is Credit Monitoring Worth It?
Checking your credit score regularly for inaccurate information or signs of fraud is time-consuming and expensive. That’s why many Americans choose to use a credit monitoring service instead.
Aura constantly monitors your credit report with all three bureaus and alerts you to any changes that could impact your credit score. You’ll also get monthly credit reports and be able to quickly and easily track changes to your credit score.
And if the worst should happen, Aura provides you with 24/7 access to a team of Fraud Resolution Specialists — as well as $1 million in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Pay for “Free” Credit Scores
Credit score scams are particularly malicious because they feed on a consumer’s desire to establish and maintain great credit. But giving your personal information to one bad actor in exchange for a “free credit report” is all it takes to create big problems for your finances and reputation.
Aura offers you peace of mind with ironclad protection against identity theft, credit and financial fraud, and online threats.