Free credit reports: Good, bad or ugly?

Kevin Fields wrote in to tell me that the CEO of Equifax doesn’t think free credit reports are a good idea. Referring to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act as “unconstitutional,’ Thomas Chapman said that giving everyone a free credit report once a year won’t help protect people from fraud.

“It’s like turning on the smoke alarm once a year,’ Wired quoted Chapman as saying.

I don’t know if this is true. I have seen an increase in the number of people who are paying off old debts due to seeing them on their credit reports, which creditors can’t possibly be unhappy about. I’ve also seen an increase in the number of people discovering identity theft from entries on their credit reports.

At the same time, it bothers me that these companies are being forced to give away their product for free, even with the apparent benefits to the public. I haven’t been able to make up my mind on this yet. So, your thoughts?

Your free credit report is here. (This is the real deal, no bait and switch.) Update: Several of my non-U.S. readers reported that this link does not work. Apparently they are using some sort of geolocation to deny access to anyone outside the U.S. I wonder if people on military bases can access the site.