The Federal Trade Commission says free credit reports have become a big business, and they are now cracking down on companies that offer free credit reports that really aren't free at all.
The government's first target was the web site "free credit report.com," owned by credit giant Experian.
"Consumers were promised a free credit report and then tricked into purchasing an expensive credit monitoring service," says Lydia Parnes, of the Federal Trade Commission.
The F.T.C. says millions of consumers may have been charged seventy-nine dollars a year if they didn't cancel within thirty days. An official with Experian says the company regrets any confusion caused by its web site, and has agreed in court to make its fine print more prominent. They have also agreed to pay the government $950,000. Consumer advocates say that is a good, but modest first step.
"Experian should have been fined millions of dollars for deceiving consumers and abusing the public trust, " says public interest research advocate, Ed Mierzwinski.
"It would have been nice to see them refund millions of dollars back to consumers," says Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Congress has mandated that all Americans get a free copy of their credit report. It is a necessity if you want to buy a house or a car, or to make sure you are not a victim of identity theft.
There is only one "official" ( government approved web site ). However, the F.T.C says there are more than a hundred look alike and imposter web sites out there, waiting to lure in unsuspecting consumers. The government says "buyer beware... especially when it's free."
Though Experian agreed to pay nearly a million dollars to the government, only consumers who paid for their free credit reports between 2000 and 2003 will be eligible for limited refunds.
|The Better Business Bureau|