FreeCreditReport.com is Not Free!
We recently received this e-mail from one of our readers:
One of our voting places was broken into and computers stolen. This brought about a tv news story urging people to get their free credit report and put a fraud alert or freeze on their information. I was guided to www.freecreditreport.com to do this with all three companies. I followed the online instructions to obtain my free reports but missed the one occurrence that mentioned that I needed to cancel within 7 days to avoid a $14.95 charge per month. The pages that I went through all said "free" over and over again. I have done the free credit report before without incident but have not done it for a while. So when I got the reference to this site I thought it was the same as I had used before. As soon as I received word that my credit card was being billed for the $14.95, I reviewed all the information that I printed from the site again, but there was no mention of any charges. So I went back online and looked at the site again to find the mention of charges and about canceling. That word canceling was very difficult to find on their site. The only way to cancel is to call them which I did right away. When I explained the situation to Justine (no last name given) she actually tried to sell me on the extended service. I repeated that I wished to cancel, that I wished to be refunded what I was charged, and that their website is intentionally deceptive. Again, she tried to sell me the service (though I could hardly understand her on the phone).
Once again, I was quite clear that I wanted to cancel and get a refund. She finally agreed to grant the cancellation but informed me that a refund would not be possible. I told her that I intended to contact Consumer Reports and my credit card company about this. I realize that this is similar to a free magazine subscription. I did not notice the fact that I would be billed monthly if I did not cancel within 7 days. The magazine subscriptions seem to be more clear that after the free trial you will be billed and this usually lasts for months.
I am not sure if I can do anything at this point but if you have any suggestions, I am listening.
Although there’s nothing we can do to help Bob get his money back, hopefully, his story can help some of you avoid the same mistake.
Here’s the operative phrase from Bob’s letter: “I have done the free credit report before without incident but have not done it for a while. So when I got the reference to this site I thought it was the same as I had used before.”
Bob had obviously used AnnualCreditReport.com, which the only government-mandated, free site. But the companies behind these "free" sites are clearly banking on consumers making the same mistake Bob did—confusing their sites with AnnualCreditReport.com and agreeing to pay for something they can get for free before they realize what they’ve done.
We published an extensive report about these sites back in the summer of 2007, one that examined freecreditreport.com and more than 20 others offering “free” credit reports. You can read the executive summary of the report, or download a PDF of the entire report.
Finally, don’t be fooled by the TV ads for free credit reports, especially the ones for freecreditreport.com that feature some boy band singing catchy ditties about their identities getting stolen.
Bizarrely, these ads have become so popular people are posting them to YouTube (where they’ve already attracted more than a million page views) and singing their praises with comments like: “lol. this one is my favorite of all the freecredit commercials. i have it memorized!!.” And “i'm addicted to these things! me & my friend sang this for a talent contest”
But at least a few of the comments echo Bob’s ordeal: “Bullxxxx this is not free. Its 14.95 a month where you have to get some stupid membership and if you dont cancel you will be billed 14.95 every month. I knew there was a catch.” And “Wow... hilarious videos... false advertising.”
So remember, there’s only one truly free credit reporting site: AnnualCreditReport.com.