PreOwned Car Shoppers Beware: Free Credit Report? Not So Fast!

by J D Sallen

A New York Times story a while back (The High Cost of a 'Free Credit Report') interviewed a Madison, Wis. man named Steele who decided to check his credit score prior to buying a preowned car.

Steele had seen countless commercials that featured an apparently thought-disordered hipster-wanna-be (the ads’ copywriter calls the character “a lovable loser”) singing the company jingle. The jingle is an annoying, self-pitying elegy about various life problems the singing looser absurdly attributed to not checking his credit score.

Although I find the ads insufferable, there’s no denying their inexplicable popularity and obvious effectiveness. The Times called the ads “lighthearted and catchy, with lyrics like: ‘F-R-E-E, that spells free, baby. Saw their ads on my TV, thought about going but was too lazy’.'' And despite their ubiquity across media platforms, millions have actually downloaded the ads from Youtube. (Who are these people?! Why are they doing this?! I so need an Ativan.)

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Unfortunately, Steele couldn’t figure out that, no matter what they claim, no one spends millions in major media advertising (more than $70.7 million in 2007 alone) to give something away free. So he took the bait. He filled out the online form, remaining clueless to the possibility “FREE” might be a teensy bit of false advertising despite the requirement he give his credit card info. He said he thought the site needed his CC 411 to verify his identity. Huh?

You see where this is going. Months pass before our victim realizes the site had been billing his credit card an ongoing $14.95 a month for his FREE CREDIT REPORT. He says this was a complete surprise. ''It's called It's kind of easy to make that assumption.''

He’s right, apparently. If millions of people didn’t continue to make the same seemingly obvious gaffe, the FreeCreditReport ads wouldn’t have been a prime-time media fixture for years.

Go here to learn how to get a really free credit report.

''It's what I call a protection racket; the companies are charging you a fee and they're making a promise that it's going to improve your credit, and protect against identity theft, but in fact it does neither,'' said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group.

The article references another victim of, Trevor Snyder. Snyder was duped by the deceptive ads then had trouble cancelling the recurring charges. Nevertheless, Mr. Snyder reports, ''My wife comments continuously on their TV commercials because she likes the ditty.'' Stories like these remind me why I’ve always adored The Simpsons. Because they’re so realistic.

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Pop Quiz

Question: What do the “Free” credit sites listed below all have in common?

Answer: They’re NOT free. Also, they have all received warning letters from the FTC.,,,,,,,,,,,

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