CHARLESTON -- Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office has been driving a Credit Car around the state helping consumers obtain free copies of their credit reports.
"The Credit Car is essentially a mobile office with the capability of instantly providing consumers with their credit reports at no cost," according to a press release on McGraw's Web site.
Attorney General staff at the site have information to help consumers better understand their credit reports. More importantly, if the credit report contains errors, the Credit Car staff will assist consumers in correcting inaccuracies. The tour began Jan. 17 in Weirton.
"More than 50 percent of all credit reports contain at least one error," McGraw said in the press release. "Just one error on a credit report can cause an individual to be denied an application for a loan or credit.
"That is why we are working to assist people with getting copies of their credit report and helping them to understand what it means. As well, consumers need to know what to do in the event they believe their credit report contains an error. This is one of the most valuable services we can offer consumers. Last year, our office received over 2,000 complaints regarding credit matters."
Fran Hughes, McGraw's chief deputy AG, said the first six stops on the caravan were successful.
We're going to do it all over the state.
"It's been going well," she said. "There is a real need. It's an invaluable service to consumers."
At Wednesday's stop at the Charleston Town Center mall, the advisers already had helped more than 60 consumers obtain their reports before noon.
Hughes said the tour will continue, hitting more town and locations across the state.
"We'll be going to some smaller towns," she said. "We're still working out the logistics. We're planning to continue it throughout the winter."
At some of the first stops on the tour, Hughes said people asked the Credit Car to return.
"We've had areas when we've appreared, and people have asked, 'Will you come and speak to the bank employees, to the credit unions?' A lot of people see us and ask us to appear again."
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), people have the right to obtain free copies of their credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies -- Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax -- each year. However, these agencies are not required to provide an individual's credit score.
That sometimes leads to confusion when groups offering "free" credit reports, the AG's office says. There sometimes are hidden charges and requirements.
"Most people don't realize there is only one Web site that is authorized to provide free credit reports with no strings attached," McGraw said in the release. "The address of that Web site is www.annualcreditreport.com.
"From there, you can get copies of your credit report from all three of the major credit reporting agencies. You can also request them via telephone or mail. Information on how to go about receiving your credit report using those methods is available on our Web site under Helpful Consumer Links.
The Office of the Attorney General's Credit Car first six stops were Weirton, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Beckley, Princeton and Charleston.
The AG's office asks that those needing assistance in correcting errors on their credit reports and are not able to visit a Credit Car stop call the Attorney General's Consumer Hotline at 1-800-368-8808.
"You owe it to yourself to check your credit report every year. Even better, check one of your three credit reports every four months to monitor your credit on a regular basis," McGraw said in the release. "Many people don't realize they have been the victim of identity fraud or a reporting error until it is too late.
"Be proactive. It can mean the difference between getting a good interest rate on a home or car loan and being denied a loan altogether. It can even cost you the job you're trying to get."
Also, any communities or groups interested in having the Credit Car in their area or at an event are invited to contact Amy Saunders, Consumer Coordinator for the Office of the Attorney General, at (304) 558-2021.