Lawsuit charges FreeCreditReport.com misleads, costs consumers

credit cardAlmost everyone has seen one (or more!) of those ads for FreeCreditReport.com, in which a crew of lovable slackers miss out on chances to better themselves because of their lousy credit. Perhaps because they're distracted by the goofy jingle, what a lot of people don't realize at first is that the "free" credit report isn't so free: Signing up to receive one actually means signing up for a $15-per-month credit-monitoring report called Triple Advantage.
But it seems some people don't think that practice is as cute as the commercials try to be, because last week, a lawsuit was filed against Experian, the credit-report company that owns the site, in a federal court in California. The lawyer representing the lead plaintiff charges that Experian is engaged in consumer fraud, and he's trying to get this suit class-action status.

According to attorney John Balestriere, who is representing the lead plaintiff (identified in this MSN Money article as Erica Possim, a Wisconsin college student), Experian is trying to trick consumers into signing up for the credit-monitoring service. "Experian is capitalizing on the fact that people know they can get a free credit report from the government," Balestriere told WalletPop in an interview. "This is a straightforward consumer fraud case."

This article that ran in the New York Times last year chronicled Experian's success with the FreeCreditReport.com ads and its previous entanglements with regulators over deceptive advertising. Balestriere told WalletPop that since news of the suit filing broke, "dozens upon dozens" of people are calling and requesting to be part of it, claiming they were also tricked into paying for Triple Advantage when they thought they were just getting a peek at their credit score for free.

"This is the kind of case which is what the class action device was made for," Balestriere said, adding that he hopes to find out by late summer or early fall if a judge will grant the case class-action status. Balestriere told WalletPop he has not yet received any response from Experian.

At least as of now, the main FreeCreditReport.com site does note that it's not the free, government-sponsored credit-report site (that one's actually annualcreditreport.com), and states that signing up enrolls the user in the Triple Advantage program. The bottom line for all consumers is this: Even if something says "free," you're not off the hook for reading the fine print. Always make sure you know what you're getting into if you sign up for something, especially if you're being promised something for nothing.

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