I applied for a state government job a few months ago that required a security background check. The contracting company I was working through used Choicepoint, which of course fills one with confidence. The report came back with three outstanding warrants against my first and last names in Arizona and Virginia. I called Choicepoint to dispute the report and gave them more information (middle name, height, SS#, race, weight, etc.), and they ran this extra information past the outstanding warrants. Of course, that cleared me. I have to admit they attacked the problem and cleared up the report within 48 hours.
It made me think it was time to get a credit report as well, to see what might be lurking in the background there. Back in the late '80s, I applied for a loan at a computer store to buy a Mac and was refused. When I got the credit report, it was clear my name had gotten mixed with the name of someone who shouldn't have been allowed in the parking lot of a bank. I got that cleared up (and wound up not buying the Mac, after all). We had no problems later when it came time to apply for mortgage loans or when we refinanced.
Still, it's something that needs to be checked from time to time. I wish my credit union offered a service through which I could get a copy of my report. I saw that the FTC's credit website had a link to something called AnnualCreditReport. It looks pretty good: look up your state and see when you're entitled to request a free copy of your credit report from each of the big three (Experian, Equifax, Transunion).
From the home page: "This central site allows you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion." Note that the site is co-sponsored by the Big 3.
You can request three reports at one time (one report from each of the three, which means you can't request again for another 12 months), or request a single report every four months and rotate through the three that way. See the FAQ more info.
From the site, you can check to see when you can request your free copy. (I can't request a free one till September 2005.) According to federal law, you can only be charged $9.50 for a credit report, so it's not expensive in any case. But since the credit-reporting companies don't make much money on them, they do offer extra add-on packages to the standard report that strike me of dubious value.