dollar billIn a real "Oh no they didn't!" move, Experian has (so far, at least) managed to dodge the FTC's requirements that it tell consumers in plain English that they're really signing up for a pricey credit-monitoring service when they sign up to receive a free credit report. How? Hold onto your seats: By making you pay for that free report.

As this article in the New York Times details, Experian, which owns the free credit report site and promotes it via catchy commercial jingles, seemed to find a loophole in the FTC requirements (which we told you about in detail here) that would have made them add prominent announcements to the site alerting consumers that they were signing up for a service and not actually getting the free credit report everyone is entitled to get every year (for that, you need to go to annualcreditreport.com). It has started charging a buck for the report -- it says the money's going to charity -- for the quote-unquote free report, and then it signs you up for its $15-a-month credit-monitoring service.

If this seems like Experian is really abusing the spirit of the law here, that's because it is, but the jury's still out on whether or not it will be able to get away with it. The FTC hasn't commented yet, and Consumers Union staff attorney Lauren Bowne says the best thing for average, fed-up Americans to do is to contact that agency at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov and let them know that this loophole needs to be closed before more consumers get duped into paying for a service they didn't want.

"I think the FTC is the place to go with this one," Bowne says. Contact them and say, "I'm still confused and I want a stronger rule," she advises. Bowne adds that it's crucial for Americans to understand that you never, ever have to give your credit card number for a legitimate free credit report. The bureaus don't need a credit card number to know who you are; they get that from the other information you give them. Asking for a credit card number is a red flag, because it means you're going to be charged.

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