Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Feds crack down on 'free' credit report offers

The feds haven't banned irritating 'free' credit report commercials, but they are making it tougher for consumers to be misled.

By Karen Datko Feb 24, 2010 8:38PM

How many people, we wonder, have been burned by ordering a “free” credit report, only to find out they’ve unwittingly signed up for paid credit monitoring?


There is only one official site for free credit reports -- -- and thanks to new action by the Federal Trade Commission, you’ll have a better chance of landing there if you want a free report.


Starting April 1, those other sites -- which offer a “free” report in exchange for signing up for credit monitoring or some other service -- will be required to display in a very prominent way that the truly free site exists. Look for this wording at the top of each page, with appropriate links in place:

THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Read more at FTC.GOV. You have the right to a free credit report from or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law.

Sadly, the disclosure won’t be included in radio and TV ads until Sept. 1. (That suggests we’ll be seeing the same tiresome ads, green wool tights and all, recycled by Experian until then. Let’s hope for the best. Meanwhile, you can watch the FTC’s spoof of those ads here.)

The new FTC rules also address confusion experienced by some who have tried to use After we referred an acquaintance to the site, she reported back that she had been directed to a paid site. She likely clicked on one of the ads from the three major credit bureaus at the free site. Under the new rules, you’ll no longer see ads there until you’ve pulled your three free credit reports -- one each from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- for the year.


Here’s another little trick if you’ve never used You could order a free credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion all at once. But if you space them out -- one every four months -- you’ll be able to keep a better eye out for errors or for accounts that weren’t opened by you, which may mean you’ve been the victim of identity theft. (Paid credit monitoring is recommended for ID theft victims. However, for most folks, it’s easy and free to do it yourself.)


Why is your credit report important? The FTC advises, “Because the information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, you should be sure the information is accurate and up-to-date." 


If you want your credit score, you can either settle for an estimate or pay for it. (For more on that topic, read “The truth about free credit scores.”) Another hack, described by our partner blog The Dough Roller, is to sign up for the credit-monitoring service at myFICO, get your FICO credit score, and cancel the credit-monitoring service within 30 days, before your credit card is billed for the $89.95 annual subscription.

That sounds like too much hassle to us, particularly when getting a free credit report is so simple.


Have you inadvertently signed up for a paid service when you thought you were getting a free credit score?


Related reading:

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.