TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are the three consumer reporting companies that operate on a nationwide basis that are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to provide you with free credit reports once every twelve months at your request. It is the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the consumer protection agency of the federal government, to oversee the FCRA and ensure that the data maintained by the consumer reporting companies is accurate and private. The FCRA has established the rules and guidelines that need to be followed in order to receive free credit reports.
Free reports can be requested from the three nationwide consumer reporting companies either from the Internet, by phone or by regular mail. There is only one authorized website that can fill orders for free reports to which you are entitled by law. It's the official site for Annual Credit Reports and any other websites that advertise that they offer free credit reports are not part of the annual credit report program that is free and legally mandated. These web sites may entice you to sign up for a "free" service for which you pay after a period of time or may ask for personal information in order to promote their products. If you do get contacted from someone claiming to be from the official web site by email or phone, then you need to report this directly to the FTC.
The phone number to call to receive your free report is toll-free. You can also make your request by mail by filling out a special form for requesting an annual report and sending it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service in Atlanta, Georgia. These three methods are provided so that you do not need to contact each of the consumer reporting companies on an individual basis. The law provides that you can order free reports from all three companies at the same time or order your free credit reports one at a time from each company.
The length of time it takes to get your free reports depends on the method you used to request it. If you ordered it online from the authorized web site, then you will have immediate access to your report. If you called the toll-free number to order your free report, then you will receive your report within fifteen days. A report that was ordered by mailing in the form will take fifteen days from receipt of the form in Georgia. These periods of time are typical and may be longer if the consumer reporting company from which you ordered the report needs more information to verify your identity.