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Experian and FreeCreditReport.com Sink to a New Low

posted by Bob Lawless

One of the many banes of my existence is FreeCreditReport.com. Not only do their ads play incessantly during any sporting event that I care to watch, but my children also used to walk around the house singing the catchy tunes featured in the commercials. That behavior--along with all other forms of fun--has been banned in the Lawless household. And, I suppose I have raised an existential question of whether one can have multiple banes against one's being.

FreeCreditReport.com, of course, is not free. To use the service, you must enroll in "Triple Advantage," a credit monitoring service that you can get for the not-so-low price of $14.95/month. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had recently taken action to prevent these sorts of abusive practices. Under rules that just went into effect, any web site that purported to offer a "free" credit report had to include prominent text and a link at the top of the page directing consumers to AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the legitimate site offering consumers to request a free credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

In what appears to be a transparent attempt to evade this new regulation, FreeCreditReport.com's owner, Experian, has begun charging $1 for FreeCreditReport.com and says it will donate the $1 to charity. Under Experian's reasoning, FreeCreditReport.com is no longer "free," and hence it doesn't have to comply with the new FTC rule. Will it comply with truth-in-advertising laws (and common decency) and rename its site "OneDollarCreditReport.com?" That won't make for as catchy of a tune, I suppose.

For further information, read Ron Lieber's article in the New York Times about Experian's move and the FTC's web site about free annual credit reports. There is also the news that the actor in the FreeCreditReport.com ads is French-Canadian, now making poutine only the second-most questionable cultural development to come out of Quebec.


How many people are even aware that this free disclosure law only covers the major Consumer Reporting Agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) but not the dozens of smaller "nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies" (as defined by FCRA Section 603(w))?

For example, the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (MIB) is a cooperative data exchange formed by the North American insurance industry more than 100 years ago. Today, the MIB operates the most extensive database of medical information on individuals who have previously applied for health, life, disability income, critical illness and long-term care insurance. The Federal Trade Commission warns that, "in addition to an individual’s credit history, data collected by Medical Information Bureau, Inc. may include medical conditions, driving records, family history, criminal activity, drug use, sexual orientation, and participation in hazardous sports, among other facts."


Likewise, most consumers and even many insurance agents are unaware that insurers such as Humana, UnitedHealth Group , Aetna (AET), and Blue Cross plans, have ready access to applicants’ prescription histories. These online reports, available in seconds from a pair of little-known intermediary companies, typically include voluminous information going back five years on dosage, refills, and possible medical conditions. The reports also provide a numerical score predicting what a person may cost an insurer in the future.


An investigation last year by the Federal Trade Commission found that the two companies supplying these pharmacy profiles—Ingenix Inc. and Milliman Inc.—violated federal law for years by keeping the system hidden from consumers. But the FTC has merely required disclosure if prescription information causes denial of coverage or some other adverse action; the agency imposed no penalties. Disturbingly, the new laws do not require the Medical Information Bureau Inc., Ingenix Inc., or Millliman Inc. to offer consumers a safe, online source to request their medical report files; they only have "1-800" numbers.

You crack me up Bob! They should be able to adapt their tunes with little to no interruption of the original melodies.

Sam. Where you been? Good info! Good for some talking points on health care.

i don't get caught much in scams but that's one that got me and people i know. if i saw the guy in charge i'd punch him. maybe the ftc will do this for me.

Beware getting your Experian score through annualcreditreport.com.

I fell into the freecreditreport scam a few years ago, had to call 4-5 times just to get it honestly cancelled, 6+ months of charges and they wouldn't even consider a refund. Anyway, I had been recommended annualcreditreport.com by a family member, so swung by to check it out.

I didn't know freecreditreport and Experian were affiliated, so I pulled my Experian credit report for $1. It's important to note that not only is there a $1 charge, but they are STILL automatically enrolling people (without notification) in their monitoring trial and the $15/mo membership that follows. Luckily, I was dubious of these things due to past experience and picked up on it right away. Recorded a few calls to cancel and got names. I'll believe it's truly canceled when I see it...

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