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'Free' credit report now costs a buck

The company behind FreeCreditReport.com has devised a clever way to avoid having to steer customers to the one site where free credit reports have no strings attached.

By Karen Datko Apr 8, 2010 6:43PM

By now you know all about sites like FreeCreditReport.com that offered a free credit report and also automatically signed you up for credit monitoring at a monthly fee -- unless you happened to notice that part and quickly canceled.

 

Because so many consumers complained about being duped, the Federal Trade Commission last week began requiring Web sites like these to clearly and conspicuously direct consumers to the official source of free credit reports -- no strings attached -- AnnualCreditReport.com.

 

Now we learn that Experian, the owner of FreeCreditReport.com has -- at least for now -- found a way to skirt that rule.

 

“Check your report for $1 and get your score free! Plus, we'll donate your dollar to charity," the Web site says.

Clever, eh? The FTC rule applies only to sites that offer free credit reports. So now they're charging a fee.

   

This is wrong in so many ways:

  • Consumers will continue to unknowingly sign up for a credit-monitoring service. (As Consumer Reports’ Money Blog observes, most people don’t need to pay for credit monitoring, which they can do for free themselves.)
  • Kathleen Pender points out at SFGate.com that FreeCreditReport.com tries to make the FTC look like the bad guy. “Due to federally imposed restrictions it is no longer feasible for us to provide you with a free Experian Credit Report," it says. That’s not so. "We know of no federal restriction that would prevent a company from offering free credit reports; the rule simply requires those companies that do offer free reports to include prominent disclosures,” FTC spokesman Frank Dorman told Pender.
  • Experian isn’t the only one playing this game. Other sites that used to offer “free” credit reports in exchange for enrolling in credit-monitoring services are now offering free credit scores instead.

The only good news here is that Experian is no longer running those FreeCreditReport.com commercials with the guys in pirate hats and green wool tights. However, good luck avoiding its new TV campaigns for ProtectMyID.com and FreeCreditScore.com.

The New York Times says FTC official Rebecca E. Kuehn wouldn’t comment specifically on Experian. “But she pointed to language in the new rules (.pdf file) stating that they apply to any company that ‘either expressly or impliedly’ offers a free credit report to a consumer and ties it to enrollment in a paid service or product.”

 

It appears the FTC needs to swing into action again. “The Web site is FreeCreditReport.com, not LowCostCredit Report or any such thing, and this seems to be an attempt to deceive consumers,” wrote Kevin DeMarrais, a columnist at NorthJersey.com.

 

Experian is giving the proceeds from the $1 fee to DonorsChoose.org, which funnels donations to classroom projects around the country. DonorsChoose founder Charles Best said the donations sit well with him right now. “If the FTC expresses disapproval of Experian’s $1 donation approach, we would immediately reconsider,” he said in an e-mail to Ron Lieber of the NYT’s Bucks blog.

 

Related reading:

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