Before I can tell you this story, a few things need to be mentioned. First of all, this is not an indictment of my parents in any way, or a mockery of them for being “stupid.” They were mislead by a clever advertising campaign, just as many other people were before them. Secondly, it is impossible to talk about my parents in any coherent way without explaining my family situation: when I refer to my “parents,” I am talking about my mother and her partner of 14 years. Together they have raised me since I was nine years old. I call my mom’s partner my “stepmom,” because that is the word that comes nearest to describing our relationship.
Saturday was my Graduation Day! As a treat for successfully completing my Bachelors, my parents took me out to eat, along with my older sister and my boyfriend. As usually happens when my sister and I are together, the conversation eventually turned toward personal finance. My mother chimed in to let us know that she and my stepmom had just pulled my stepmom’s credit report… via FreeCreditReport.com.
Like many people, the web address “FreeCreditReport.com” had been drilled into my parents’ brains by a singing pirate/angry husband/subcompact car driver. Even I thought some of the commercials in the ad campaign were rather clever. But I’ve been getting my credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com for over two years now, because I know that it’s only authorized source to get the three credit reports you’re guaranteed each year by the Federal Trade Commission. The problem is that my parents didn’t know that.
How FreeCreditReport.com Gets Money Out of People
The name is the extremely misleading part, but there’s one bit of their commercials that you should pay particular attention to: “Requires enrollment in Triple Advantage.” As you might suspect, Triple Advantage is the not-free part of FreeCreditReport.com. It’s a “credit monitoring service” which watches your credit reports from all three reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and alerts you whenever there are changes. This service is actually run by one of those three agencies, Experian. When you sign up for FreeCreditReport.com, you get both your credit report and credit score from Experian, but you also sign up for Triple Advantage, which costs $14.95 per month.
If you cancel your account with FreeCreditReport.com within a week your credit card will not be charged. This is how they can get away with calling it “Free.” But it also brings up an important point: you should not have to enter in credit card information to get your free credit report! The legitimately free credit report service, AnnualCreditReport.com, has other ways of verifying your identity, and does not ask for a credit card number.
About the only advantages I can see for FreeCreditReport.com are:
- You get your Experian score, which you don’t get for free from AnnualCreditReport.com. But, you can get your TransUnion score for free from ad-supported CreditKarma. And with CreditKarma, you can get it for free as often as you like, whereas your free Experian score from FreeCreditReport.com is a one-time deal.
- If you actually want Triple Advantage, and you sign up knowing what you’re getting into, it’s not a bad deal. You could also get credit monitoring service from other companies, such as MyFICO, which I’ve used before and trust more than a company that engages in deceptive advertising.
If you’ve been tricked by the musical ad campaign as well, you’ll be happy to know that cancelling the service is fairly easy. And as I said before, if you cancel within a week of signing up, you shouldn’t be charged. Which is exactly what my stepmom did, the day after we talked. You have to call their Customer Care directly in order to cancel (1-888-829-6560). It’s actually extremely easy — I suspect they get a lot of cancellations! The first option in the “phone tree” was “Press 1 to cancel your service,” which connected us with a live operator, and the whole thing was over about a minute later.
Spreading the Word About AnnualCreditReport.com
One of the things my mom said during our conversation was that she’d never heard of AnnualCreditReport.com, or their ad campaign to counter FreeCreditReport.com and other sites claiming to be “free.” In other words, she’d never seen this commercial:
Which is a shame, but let’s face it, the FTC isn’t going to spend as much money on an ad campaign as Experian does. So it’s up to those of us who know about AnnualCreditReport.com to spread the video around. So think about your parents, your relatives, and your friends: if they wanted to check their credit reports for free, would they know to use AnnualCreditReport.com, or would they too be bamboozled by a sleezy singing pirate?
Spread the word! Send the FTC commercials about AnnualCreditReport.com around to your friends and family. And most importantly, if a commercial for FreeCreditReport.com comes on the television while you’re in the room, check with the people around you to see if they know the truth about the service.