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Your Take: Common Sense vs. FreeCreditReport.com

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Free Credit ReportIf you’ve ever watched a television in the last few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen the FreeCreditReport.com commercials with the guy playing the banjo. In recent months, Experian, the parent company of FreeCreditReport.com, has come under fire because:

  1. The credit reports are free, if you remember to cancel the trial (big if!).
  2. Consumers have been educated by the FTC that they can get a copy of their credit report for free once every 12 months, no strings attached… except they have to go to AnnualCreditReport.com, not FreeCreditReport.com.
  3. Consumers are, knowingly or unknowingly, signing up for the trial service, getting their free credit score and reports, and then not canceling.


FreeCreditReport.com recently changed its name to FreeCreditScore.com as a result of new government regulation.

So, in early November, the Bucks blog on the New York Times wrote about how Senator Chuck Schumer of New York wants the FTC to force Experian to give you your free report and score before they ask for the credit card information. This was largely shelved because the CARD Act included a provision that required credit report services to include a disclaimer.

I understand the need to police overtly scammy negative option billing practices but how much intervention is too much? I think it was right for the FTC to force Experian to notify visitors to FreeCreditReport.com that they are not affiliated with the free credit report program. It’s also good that the site informs you that you are signing up for a free 7-day trial. It should also be clear that you will be charged for it after the trial because otherwise they wouldn’t ask for your credit card information! (to be clear, I’m fine with the regulation as it stands now… but I didn’t like Senator Schumer’s idea of forcing Experian to change their business practices in that way)

So at what point do we stop? At what point does common sense get completely thrown out and replaced with regulation? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.

{ 72 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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72 Responses to “Your Take: Common Sense vs. FreeCreditReport.com”

  1. Anthony says:

    Unfortunatly, the wife ended up using FreeCreditReport.com (because of the commercials!). I asked her to pull her credit report, so that we can review it. But I didn’t tell her where to go online to do so for free. Luckily, we were able to cancel.

  2. Strebkr says:

    Its discouraging that some people just can’t get with the program. I guess they want someone else to do everything for them.

    • Chris says:

      There are a lot of people like this but there are even more who just can’t figure it out on their own. Everyone should be responsible for their own actions, like continuing to pay their mortgage even if they are underwater. But it doesn’t make things any better when there are so many people out there that want to swindle the nieve.

  3. Shirley says:

    End User Agreements have become so long and complicated that few people read them. Oftentimes they are barely skimmed through as the user scrolls down to the [I Agree] box to continue to their goal.

    This is a bad, very bad, habit. Liken it to opening and eating the contents of a package without reading the label which says “not for internal consumption”.

    Understand that clicking on that [I Agree] button constitutes a statement by you that yes, you have read and understand all that is involved, and yes, you agree to abide by it. If you didn’t, then don’t agree. Either go back and read it, or get out of there. It’s up to the consumer to know what they are agreeing to.

    • Shirley says:

      Before agreeing to any EUA that you are not sure of, see this link:

      http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/eulalyzer.html

    • ziglet19 says:

      I do make a point to read through EUAs before I click “I Agree” but sometimes that are so bogged down with legal jargon, I’m still not sure what I am reading!

      • NateUVM says:

        This would fall under the “understand” portion of “Read and Understood.” If you don’t understand it, you shouldn’t click that you have. Or, don’t complain when it comes back to potentially bite you.

        Not saying this is you, Ziglet, but let’s not give people a pass just because they don’t understand what they’re being told to read in order to use a service.

      • Shirley says:

        Please do have a look at the link above. It’s a very small program that scans EUAs for obvious grey areas and shows them to you. It is a manual start program (does not start at boot up)and uses very little cpu. And the price is right… free. :-)

      • Josh says:

        That’s how the man gets you. He puts everything in there, but twists it into some language full of terms that Lamon (or however you spell it) couldn’t even understand! Thanks for the link on the analyzer! :)

    • Chris says:

      What about a large population of the world that simply will not be able to comprehend this language?

      Are they not allowed to get a cellphone. Should they have to hire an attourney to sign up for cable.

      • NateUVM says:

        Well, actually, yeah. If they want to understand what the terms state, and they can’t decipher the language, then they should hire someone who can represent those statements for them.

        Is that a touch drastic? Sure, but so is the example. Is getting out of a potential future fee worth hiring a by-the-hour lawyer to read a user agreement worth it? Probably not. But it is still your responsibility to know what it means if you say, “I know what this means.”

        • Chris says:

          This is an extreme example but I guess it goes back to this. Should contracts be dumbed down or should society be educated to higher standards?

          I think we both will agree on the answer to this.

          • Shirley says:

            I do agree with you, Chris, but guess what… it aint gonna happen. So, we do what we can to avoid mistakes and frivolous lawsuits.

          • gtsankov says:

            To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I should agree with… ;)
            I do agree that the EULA language should be simplified, BUT I can’t agree that people should remain uneducated. Regulating the sales and advertisements by law certainly limits the need of common sense and that’s awful.

            I have a higher degree, consider myself smart, and still have fallen for scams. But that’s not the end of the world, and that’s what has helped me develop my common sense more than anything else!

            I just thought of a good documentary, more or less related to the topic — ‘A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar’. Recommended!

  4. Kyle C. says:

    I hate to admit this but I actually fell prey to the FreeCreditReport.com scam. It was a long time ago, actually before the annual credit report was free. There was a class action lawsuit against them if I remember correctly. I only stuck with the program for like two months so I wasn’t out a lot of money but it is morally wrong, it is a classic bait and switch that you would punch someone over.

    • kevjohn says:

      Same here! I fell for this a long time before they started in with those cute commercials. And if I recall correctly, I never even got my so-called free credit report out of it. I got some indecipherable document that bore no resemblance to a typical report we’re used to seeing. And then I neglected to cancel with them before their real “service” kicked in. It wasn’t much money, but I still felt ripped off in paying for something that I didn’t want or need.

  5. otipoby says:

    I believe it was Ben Franklin that said “A fool and his money are soon parted”. I agree with disclosure – anything to make the “contract” clearer for all involved, but after FCR states that this is a free trial, then I feel it is the consumer’s responsibility to decide to either sign up, or not.
    The credit card information requirement should have been a huge red-flag. I do not give my CC information to anyone unless I am fully aware of my contractual obligations.

  6. otipoby says:

    My correction. Google says the quote is attributed to Thomas Tusser. My bad.

  7. Evan says:

    This question is bigger than just that singing commercial. The issues are whether the gov’t is way to involved in our lives and whether they realize the unintended consequences. Jim, you even discussed those unintended consequences with the CARD ACT.

    I just want the gov’t out of my life as much as possible! You may want to check out http://www.lp.org it is the libertarian party’s official website

    • Shirley says:

      Kind of scary when you think about how much the government is taking control, isn’t it?

      • Jamie says:

        True, but it’s not like the government sat there and dreamt up this by itself. People requested/demanded to be “protected” from the “big bad scary FreeCreditReport.com”

        • Chris says:

          Agreed…everyone complains about big brother, but they still want his protection when people are trying to steal from them. The problem is that there are more and more ways to be scammed.

          • Shirley says:

            And more and more people unwilling to look, read and THINK before they jump at a chance for reaching a goal without any effort.

          • Josh says:

            I’m a fan of being under that umbrella. Mainly, I know that things need to go a certain way, and for that to happen, someone has to watch to some degree.

      • Strebkr says:

        I think its very scary!

  8. zapeta says:

    I think as long as there is a link saying that their site isn’t the free credit report mandated by the government its fine. I’m sure if people feel like they’re scammed when they see the charge show up they can call and get a refund. Unfortunately there seems to be a lot more regulation trumping common sense these days.

  9. There are some things that do require legislation, but this is just not one of them. If the site clearly states its terms and conditions, people need to be more cautious and read the fine print. We can’t have the government regulate every part of our lives.

  10. sdziekan says:

    In my view, Experian’s goal with freecreditreport.com is to make money by tricking people who think they are signing up for a free credit report that they are legally entitled to. This is a scam pure and simple, just because they are protected by small print doesn’t change that.

    • otipoby says:

      If I am on FreeAnything.com and they ask me for my credit card, I am going to think, “hmmm, maybe this isn’t what I think it is” and read the fine print.

      Is this a scam – not really.

      • Strebkr says:

        I’m kind of with you on this. Once you give up your payment information something has to go off in your head saying “wait a second, they might try and charge me”

  11. Chuck says:

    I think the part of the commercial that tips toward fraud is the claimed consequences of not checking your credit report. That’s some major fear mongering, and a lot of it is not true at all.

  12. echidnina says:

    I think those FreeCreditReport commercials are ridiculous. It preys on ignorance, and because those commercials are so common (and the information on the official AnnualCreditReport so scarce!), it makes the service seem more legitimate.

    I don’t know how much has changed since the last time I looked at this company, but their ‘fine print’ is/was very fine indeed, and a number of intelligent people have gotten hoodwinked by that site.

  13. I love those commercials! catchy tune… BUT I do think it should be easier for us to check our credit. Not just once a year. It is my credit and it greatly effects my ability to get a mortgage, loans, and even my insurance rates- why can’t I view it anytime I want?

    • NateUVM says:

      As far as I know, “anytime you want” isn’t possible quite yet, but you can check it, for free, three times a year.

      When you go to AnnualCreditReport.com to check your report (with no trial or anything) you can choose any of the three credit reporting agencies. Well, instead of choosing all three, just chose one. You can go back 4 months later and choose another, still for free because you haven’t viewed that one yet. Repeat with the 3rd and there’s another check. Wait another 4 months, to complete the year, and you can check with the first one again because, at that point, it’s been a year since you last checked with that agency.

      January – Check TransUnion
      May – Check Experian
      September – Check Equifax
      January – Check TransUnion
      May – etc….

      That’ll at least give you more of an updated view if you want more than once a year.

      • Strebkr says:

        Just make sure you write down when you last did it and your username/password. Some of the sites have you register and once you register, you are required to log in with the username, even from the freecreditreport.com site.

      • NewPerspective says:

        To add a twist to this, my wife and I alternate, allowing us to check in with one of the credit agencies every 2 months. Since many of our accounts are joint, this provides another way you can verify your credit over a broader period of time.

  14. Frances says:

    If someone is advertising something as FREE every time I turn around, either the advertisement or the materials I go to look at to sign up for this should indicate that Free has an ASTERISK. (not 1.5 seconds of fine print or babbling at the end of a commercial). Free with Trial is what they are offering. But because they know people wouldn’t fall for their line, they don’t say it. I’m all for business and capitalism, but if people don’t want what you are selling unless you trick them, then something is not right with the system!

    • echidnina says:

      I wonder how many people actually sign up for the Experian service knowingly, rather than for getting a free credit report.

      • Frances says:

        That’s exactly what I’d like to know! At $14.95 a month, someone would have to be pretty scared about having something bad show up on their credit report. That’s $180 a year!

        Frances

  15. NateUVM says:

    What bait-and-switch? If you go there and use their service, can’t you get a “free” credit report? Sure, you have to cancel the service, but it’s not like they don’t disclose the fact that if you don’t cancel you will be charged (It’s right there on their homepage under Important Information).

    I’m all for increased government regulation in the financial industry, but personal responsibility has to step in somewhere. There is a balance to be had.

  16. Tom says:

    I’ve always thought legislating away foolishness was a endless task. It’s been said before, if someone makes something foolproof either a) only a fool would want to use it or b) somebody goes out and makes a better fool. Often both.

  17. Karen says:

    It’s too late! Legislation replaced common sense the day lawnmower manufacturers were required to notify consumers that the lawnmower should not be used as a hedge trimmer…

    • Frances says:

      It seems to me common sense (or personal responsibility for lack of common sense) disappeared the first time a lawyer convinced a judge/jury to require a lawnmower manufacturer to pay for the idiocy of someone using it as a hedge trimmer!

    • Chris says:

      The idiots on the jury were probably unkowingly related to the person trimming the hedges.

      • Strebkr says:

        The problem with a jury of your peers is that it could be a jury of idiots. They might sit there and think to themselves that using the lawnmower to trim hedges actually does sound like a good idea.

  18. Carol T says:

    Just looked at the site and it very clearly states that anyone ordering the “free” credit report is enrolling in a “free” trial membership of credit monitoring for 7 days. If you don’t cancel within those 7 days, the $14.95 charge will be billed monthly. If this is in response to new government regulation, anyone who still believes “free” is “free” is the new and better fool described by Tom above. I feel that too many individuals don’t take responsibility for their actions and expect governmental oversight to correct their errors.
    Similar situations with overdraft protections and late charges for banks. If you keep an accurate record of your finances, you should not have any of these charges occur. That new and better fool still exists.

  19. Daniel says:

    freecreditreport.com is a sales organization, and the call center you reach to cancel won’t do so. It’s a worse version of AOL’s cancellation process. There are hundreds of complaints out there, and it’s time that the company be shut down or be severely regulated.

    Isn’t it important to shut down scam artists so that thousands of other Americans don’t make the same mistake, sending their money to the dregs of the business world?

  20. Bart says:

    “Life’s tough……It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.”
    -John Wayne

  21. bob says:

    Unfortunately, a large percentage of Americans don’t have common sense. The reason why credit card reform came in part is because too many Americans were spending more than what they had. They failed to realize the total costs of the items they purchased (original costs + credit card interests). In addition, they failed to realize the simple equation money saved > money spent. Also, part of the problem with the mortgage crisis is that people were getting mortgages that they shouldn’t have never gotten in the first place. Part of the blame can be assigned to the mortgage companies. The other part of the blame can be assigned to those homeowners who shouldn’t have gotten a home in the first place. It doesn’t make sense to buy a home when yo would be living to paycheck to paycheck (as a hiccup might cause you to miss a mortgage payment), you have unstable employment, your interest rates might adjust upwards in the future, and/or you have problems with paying your debt off in a timely fashion.

    Have we gotten to the point, as Americans, that we need to have regulation because we just don’t think anymore (both in the short-term and in the long-term) about the consequences of our actions? Shouldn’t Americans be more accountable for their actions and face the consequences instead of having the government come into to help those who are financially in trouble?

  22. Joe says:

    Well, it IS pretty annoying when you go to a website that advertises “Free” services and then you realize it wasn’t really free at all. That being said, when you’re asked for credit card information, it should kind of tip you off that you might be paying for something.

  23. kimmi says:

    …I think it’s plain misrepresentation, and criminal…

  24. Big Spender says:

    Common sense is right. You need to ask yourself if it’s “free” how they can afford to blanket the airwaves with commercials.

    • Strebkr says:

      Thats a good point. I’m not a pessimist, but I ask myself how is this other party going to make money on this deal. If you can think that through, then you should be able to figure out if its a scam or not.

  25. I guess I can see the point here, but like others I see posting, at the end of the day people should be responsible. Luckily no one is going broke over a credit report, like in the mortgage crisis.

    How hard is it to cancel a service in 7 days? There are many sharks out there, like payday lenders, debt consolidation companies, and now companies that provide credit reports….


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