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Free credit report can replace some lost data
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A credit report can be a useful tool to individuals trying to put their lives together again after Hurricane Katrina turned them upside down.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a credit report is a good way to replace lost account and credit card information if these records were destroyed.
"A recent amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three nationwide credit reporting agencies to provide a free credit report upon request once each year," Shaffett said. "This makes it easy for many people to request this document for free to rebuild their files."
Credit reports list bank, credit card and loan account numbers, and a variety of other information valuable to consumers.
While those who lost important financial documents may need a copy of their credit report to replace data, most people periodically check their credit report for mistakes.
"Mistakes in credit reports are very common and can be costly," Shaffett said. "Information in your report can decide whether or not you can get a loan for a home, automobile or other purchase, and how much you have to pay for the loan."
Mistakes can take a few weeks or months to correct, so consumers should not wait until they need a good credit report to correct any problems. A careful review of a credit report also can help consumers guard against identity theft by watching to see that no one is using their credit fraudulently.
Shaffett said the three credit bureaus have set up a central Web site and 24-hour telephone number to request the free annual credit reports. Place orders online at http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling toll free (877) 322-8228. An address is also available to request credit reports in writing. Consumers can order all three reports at once or can order one now and the others later.
According to the Federal Trade Commission's Web site, the above-referenced Web address is the only authorized online source for getting a free credit report under federal law.
"The FTC advises consumers who order their free annual credit reports online to be sure to correctly spell 'annualcreditreport.com,' or link to it from the FTC's Web site to avoid being misdirected to other Web site that offer supposedly free reports, but only with the purchase of other products," the FTC's Web site states.
Those ordering a credit report will have to provide their name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. To verify identity, consumers may be asked to provide some information that only they would know, such as the amount of a monthly mortgage payment.
"It is a good idea to request this information from home or from the most private location you can find so no one else can see your private information or overhear your conversation," Shaffett said.