If you aren't allowed to offer "Free Credit Reports," that aren't really free how about offering "Free Credit Scores"--with strings (dollars) attached, of course. Not happy with the way the FTC short-circuited the lucrative business of providing not-really-free credit reports (the ones that come with the hidden costs of credit monitoring services), Experian and others appear to have come up with what appears to be a clever and creative way to skirt the intent of the new regulations.
If you are one of the many consumers who have already been swept up in the many free credit report jingles, be warned--F.R.E.E. still doesn't spell free.
Similar to the way credit card companies have found ways around the CARD Act rules, those companies offering free credit reports have cleverly discovered ways around the FTC's rules as well. Seems everywhere consumers look for reliable, secure, and safe methods to obtain credit--or a loan modification--they seem to encounter a maze of deceptive practices. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) sought to stop deceptive practices over offering fake free credit reports, but the ruling only prompted companies to change their tactics, not their business.
New regulations set to take effect September 1st place restrictions on television and radio advertisements for "free credit reports," -yet failed to note they couldn't advertise strings (or dollars) attached credit scores. And you guessed it -like a magician with a calculated sleight-of-hand poof -free credit report ads will now be replaced with free credit score ads -and those free credit reports will now come with a nominal fee that goes directly to charity. Yes, charity. According to creditcards.com:
They no longer are advertising "Free Credit Report!" -- a pitch that drew complaints from thousands of consumers because the offers typically came with costly strings attached. Instead, some of the top sites are now offering "Free Credit Scores." And the best-known site, FreeCreditReport.com, says it's still in the business of supplying credit reports, but that they'll now cost $1 (that it will donate to charity).
Great marketing--or is it instead, as one email I received called it, "diabolical"? A reader duly noted that, in this scheme, consumers provide their credit card information believing they are only being charged a dollar. The catch is, the consumer then has to cancel the registration. If they don't, they will find their card has been charged the $14.95 monthly fee. At least when it was F.R.E.E.--as one jingle claimed--some people avoided the trap as they opted NOT to provide a credit card. Will more people be caught in the web simply because they believe they are donating a dollar to a good cause?
Here's how it appears to work. First of all, if you sign up for your free credit score, you enter into a 7-day trial that then evolves into a paid monitoring service. Is it easy to spot the fact that you are going to have to pay for this service? Well, if you can get past the words "FREE" and "no-obligation trial," avoid scrolling down to the bottom of the page where most fine-print notices of fees are generally hidden, and instead look at the top of the page, then yes, you can spot the fact that it is indeed going to cost you $14.95 a month for this "FREE" and "no-obligation trial" that lasts only 7 days.
Second of all, if you opt to purchase your credit report for one dollar, you get the same deal: a $14.95 membership in a Triple Advantage Membership. It's Groundhog Day all over again! You see, Triple Advantage is an Experian product, a.k.a. your freecreditreport.com, and it was this same $14.95 charge to Triple Advantage that outraged consumers and ultimately brought about FTC spoof video parodies, and more recently a class action suit hoping to stop this type of mass confusion.
Despite the recently created rules regarding fake free credit report offers, it appears that once again loosely written legislation allowed these companies to change their strategy -but not their business. It appears to be business as usual as these companies simply find new and creative ways to operate around the intent of the restrictions designed to protect consumers. It will unfortunately always be true that there are companies that operate right on the edge of the law. As consumers, we have to be aware of their shenanigans, avoid them if we can, and shine a strong light on them in the hope that someone--maybe the FTC again--will notice and take action.
Here's how to get copies of your really free credit reports!