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Consumers snap up credit reports online

Credit-reporting agencies report rush of requests--and some snags--on the first days of free credit report access.

Credit reporting agencies reported a rush of traffic and a few glitches as a new federal law requiring free access to credit data went into effect.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States, on Wednesday began offering free reports to consumers in Western states under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, a federal law passed last year to deal with growing concerns over privacy and disclosure of sensitive financial data. Compliance is being phased in regionally this year, with consumers in 13 Western states the first to benefit.

None of the agencies would disclose precise numbers, but each reported a rush of requests through their joint site--www.AnnualCreditReport.com--Wednesday morning, with tens of thousands of online reports processed the first day.

Opening-day kinks
Experian and TransUnion reported a few opening-day headaches, mainly from servers choking on the volume and either loading pages slowly or presenting visitors with error pages. Both agencies reported that they had corrected the issues by Thursday.

"We did have extraordinarily heavy overall volume," Experian spokesman Donald Girard said. "We did experience a few glitches in the system, and we worked out the kinks as fast as we could."

TransUnion representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment by CNET News.com, but reported similar first-day glitches to the Associated Press. "We encourage consumers who had a difficult time Wednesday to come back at their leisure," TransUnion spokeswoman Colleen Martin told the news agency.

'Everyone got through'
Equifax spokesman David Rubinger said the company had a smooth first day, with no reports of servers choking. "We're quite pleased with how it went," he said. "It was definitely heavy volume, and I'm sure at times it was a little bit slow, but everyone got through."

Customers may have been more flustered by the security measures surrounding the credit site, which asks customers several personal questions to verify identity, such as which bank holds a certain mortgage or which gas station issued you a credit card in 1998. Some are even trick questions, where the correct answer is "none of the above."

Answering an authentication question incorrectly means you're locked out of the site and have to make a mail or phone request to gain access to credit information.

"We're concerned about the potential for fraud, so we need to make certain you are who you say you are," Girard said. "That's why we advise people that when you request a report, you need to make sure you have time to go through your checkbooks and files to make sure you have the information we ask for."

Security concerns have also restricted access to the site. News sites and other Web pages that tried to link to AnnualCreditReport.com mostly have had non-working links that default to an error page with the message: "For security purposes, www.AnnualCreditReport.com can be accessed by typing the web address 'www.annualcreditreport.com,' or from links from the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), Equifax (www.equifax.com), Experian (www.experian.com) and TransUnion (www.transunion.com) Web sites."

"We're being very protective of the link, so someone doesn't spoof the site," Rubinger of Equifax said.