Whether it’s driving on the highway or surfing on the information superhighway, I’ve been seeing a lot of ads for credit reports and credit scores. With the economy weak, people are looking to play defense and advertising are looking to capitalize. Like I’ve said in the past, checking your credit report annually  is one of the best financial things you can do for yourself.
I have one word of warning for you: Don’t ever go to a company that isn’t Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, or Fair Isaac. Never ever.
Why Go Direct
Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and Fair Isaac already have your personal information. They’ve been collecting it for as long as you’ve been doing anything financial. In fact, they know more about you than you! (and probably some stuff about you that’s wrong) So when you go to them for your credit score, you’re merely identifying yourself and proving you are who you claim to be.
When you give your personal information to a third party offering a free credit score, you’re opening yourself up for fraud. It’s like applying for a Citi credit card from someone other than Citibank. You have no idea what that person or company will do you with your data. At worst, they steal your identity and open accounts in your name. At best, they sell your data to companies looking to market their products to you.
In most cases, the companies are collecting leads they can sell to other parties. In this case, this data is more than just a little personal and contact information, it will contain your social security number, favorite food, and whether you like long walks on the beach. It’s just risky to go with a third party, but it’s not any different than what LendingTree does when you request a quote and have “banks compete for your business.”
At either end of the spectrum, it’s bad. And it’s unnecessary.
Free Credit Report, Scores
For your credit report, always go to annualcreditreport.com.
For your score, I recommend going to a site owned and operated by one of the three bureaus or through Fair Isaac herself. I list the reputable sites offering free credit scores  here (they are all owned and operated by a bureau or Fair Isaac). You will get your credit score in return for signing up for a trial membership, that you can cancel.
The only exception I make to this rule is Credit Karma , which is a third party that has a partnership with TransUnion, one of the three bureaus. With CreditKarma you get a TransUnion score but it’s 100% free.
So please, if you want to get a copy of your credit score, go directly to one of the bureaus or Fair Isaac. If you want a copy of your credit report, as mandated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, go to AnnualCreditReport.com, which is set up by the government.