Free Credit Report Isn’t

November 4, 2009

THIS ONE’S FREE

By: Larry Wiezycki

FreeCreditReport.com is a $700 million a year business.  It has nine million subscribers who visit the website looking for their government-mandated free credit report after seeing their catchy TV ad. The ads warn that you must “Know your Score” or fall prey to identity theft, sudden rate hikes and further financial crises! But now the Federal Trade Commission has created its own TV ad (click here to watch it) warning about FreeCreditReport.com and other sites that bait their hook with that ‘free’ credit report snagging unsuspecting consumers with fear of the unknown.

The ‘Free Credit Report’ is the hook

THIS ONE’S NOT FREE

Ask anybody… “hey, where do you get a free credit report online?” Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Chances are very high they answered ‘FreeCreditReport.com.’ Except that’s NOT the free site. Most people know that they are entitled to a government-mandated free credit report but don’t know where to obtain it. The real site is AnnualCreditReport.com … the more logical domain name was already taken and this is where Experian comes in.

What’s in a name?

Back in 2002 Experian acquired ConsumerInfo.com and it’s brilliantly named ‘freecreditreport.com’ domain where consumers could get a ‘free’ report along with a subscription to a credit monitoring service – before you could get the REAL ‘free report’ for free.

Shortly after this acquisition legislation was passed requiring the three national credit reporting agencies, Experian® Equifax® and TransUnion® to give consumers one free report each year.

Since then Experian has spent millions marketing their brand. They did such a good job getting the word out that due to the confusion the F.T.C. tried to get Experian to give up the URL. You can guess what Experian said.

Capitalizing on the confusion

Big surprise – FreeCreditReport.com’s ‘free’ report is not free unless you sign up for a trial of Experian’s credit monitoring service which costs $14.95 per month and then remember to promptly cancel it.

It says right on the homepage “If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership.” (We added the bold).

According to their market research, most consumers researching their credit score don’t watch their accounts closely enough to catch the $14.95 per month subscription fee either missing it entirely or notice it and forget to cancel it.

This is the same type of consumer that’s easily scared by what could be in their credit report. It’s the fear of the unknown.

Selling the fear

Feeding on fears of financial woes, Experian pumped $58 million last year in ad campaigns to lure consumers into their FreeCreditReport.com website.

From watching the TV ads you would think that having your identity stolen and getting your credit report trashed is a national epidemic forcing people to take jobs at fast food fish fry restaurants or play servant at high-roller parties.

All this can be avoided if you just check your ‘free credit report.’ You already know the website. And while you’re here, why not let us monitor your credit report too?

Do you really need credit monitoring?

Experts say that identity theft doesn’t always show up on a credit report and due to delayed reporting it doesn’t do much good to monitor it daily. Experian doesn’t give out detailed stats on how long consumers retain their monitoring service but admit it’s “less than a year.”

CWN Credit Monitoring Tips:

  • You can monitor your credit report on your own for free
  • Visit the Central Source website AnnualCreditReport.com to receive your free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies
  • You are entitled to receive one free credit report through the Central Source every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – so if you order from only one company every 4 months you can monitor your credit 3 times a year