Fake Credit Report Sites: Cashing in on Your Personal Information
You may have seen Web sites or received unsolicited email offering credit
reports, sometimes for free. Be aware that some of these online operators may
not actually provide credit reports, but may be using these sites as a way to
capture your personal information. From there, they may sell your information to
others who may use it commit fraud, including identity theft.
This is a variation on "phishing," also called "carding," a high-tech scam
that uses spam or fraudulent Web sites to deceive consumers into disclosing
their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers,
passwords, and other sensitive information.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency,
urges you to take the following precautions when visiting sites or responding to
email that offer credit reports:
- If you get an email offering a credit report, don't reply or click on
the link in the email. Instead, contact the company cited in the email using
a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited email offering credit reports. Keep an eye
out for email from an atypical address, like XYZ123@website.net, or an email
address ending in a top level domain other than .com, like .ru or .de.
- Check whether the company has a working telephone number and legitimate
address. You can check addresses at Web sites like www.switchboard.com, and
phone numbers through reverse lookup search engines like www.anywho.com.
- Check for misspellings and grammatical errors. Silly mistakes and sloppy
copy - for example, an area code that doesn't match an address - often are
giveaways that the site is a scam. Look at the company's Web address: is it
a real company's address or it is a misspelled version of a legitimate
company's Web address?
- Check to see whether the email address matches the Web site address.
That is, when you enter the company's Web address into the browser, does it
go to the sender's site or re-direct you to a different Web address? If it
re-directs you, that's a red flag that you should cease the transaction.
- Find out who owns the Web site by using a "Whois" search such as the
search at www.networksolutions.com.
- Exit from any Web site that asks for unnecessary personal information,
like a Personal Identification Number (PIN) for your bank account, the
three-digit code on the back of your credit card, or your passport number
and issuing country. Legitimate sites don't ask for this information.
- All legitimate sites will want to verify who you are, and will respond
to an electronic request for a credit report by asking you for an additional
piece of information. If a site does not ask a follow-up question, the site
is almost certainly a fake.
- Use only secure Web sites. Look for the "lock" icon on the browser's
status bar, and the phrase "https" in the URL address for a Web site, to be
sure your information is secure during transmission. All real sites are
- Watch your mailbox and credit card statements: If you've responded to a
bogus site, you may never receive the credit report they offered for free.
If you paid one of these sites for a credit report, your credit card may
never be charged. If you find that you have unauthorized charges, contact
your financial institutions and credit card issuers immediately.
- Report suspicious activity to the FTC and the U.S. Secret Service. Send
the actual spam to the Los Angeles Electronic Crimes Task Force at
LA.ECTF.firstname.lastname@example.org and to the FTC at email@example.com. If you believe
you've been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the
FTC's Identity Theft Web site (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) to learn how to
minimize your risk of damage from identity theft.
For More Information and to Complain
For a copy of your credit report from the major credit bureaus, contact:
- Equifax - www.equifax.com; 1-800-685-1111
- Experian - www.experian.com; 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- TransUnion - www.transunion.com; 1-800-888-4213
Consumers also can call their local office of the Secret Service.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair
business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help
consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free
information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free,
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet,
telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer
Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal
law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.