If you’re still in the market for a New Year’s resolution, you could do worse than joining the minority of people who check their credit file every six months. Yet, tracking down your £2 credit report is often too difficult.
While it may sound like an unnecessary bind, staying on top of your credit report is the best way to protect yourself against the growing risk of identity fraud.
Cases of ID fraud – where someone steals the personal details of another individual and uses their identity to apply for goods and financial products – leapt 16.5% in the first nine months of 2012, according to the UK’s fraud prevention service CIFAS. And while your bank should ultimately cover you for any losses if you’re a victim of fraud, disentangling yourself can be a tricky and lengthy process.
Checking your credit report
Although checking your credit report should be a five-minute job, the bad news is that it’s still not nearly as straightforward as it should be. For a start, everyone in the UK has three credit reports, provided by each of the three credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and Call Credit. To be sure you’ve got the full picture, you’ll need to order your report from each of these agencies – a service that isn’t free.
And while the agencies are obliged to make people’s credit reports available for just £2 – either online or by post – they all seem to work hard to distract customers from this fact, instead attempting to persuade them to sign up to a free trial of their premium credit checking services, which costs up to £15 a month.
Getting an Experian credit report
Experian is the worst offender. While it lets people know about its £2 report on its website homepage, it appears to exert itself to ensure no one lands on this page. One of the ways it does this is by advertising in search engines, popping up at the top of the page if you search for terms such as ‘credit report’ or ‘credit rating.’
Click on these sponsored links and you’ll end up on a page that has no mention of the £2 report. Instead, the message that screams from the page is ‘GET YOUR FREE EXPERIAN CREDIT REPORT AND SCORE*’. The asterisk points out that this is only free for the first 30 days, after which you’ll have to pay. But there are no details of how much.
If you’re smart enough to find the application page for your £2 report, you’ll have to wait for a password to be posted to you – even though you can see it instantly with the premium service.
Free credit reports?
Call Credit does at least offer a genuinely free service – called Noddle. However, it too tries to sign customers up to its premium service – and if you head down this route, there’s no mention of how much it costs until after you’ve entered your card details.
Equifax is the best of the bunch – with links to your ‘£2 statutory report’ at the top and bottom of its homepage. However, it still seems to works as hard as it can to get you to sign up for its £8.99 a month service – plastering a call to get your credit report for ‘free’ across the middle of the page.
The credit reference agencies hold positions of great privilege in the UK. They operate in a market that’s practically closed to new competitors, providing a service that banks, utility firms and individuals can’t live without. If any of them are looking for a New Year’s resolution, perhaps they might consider a commitment to give individuals access to their data for free.