This year, pursuant to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003, credit reporting agencies must provide people with one free credit report per year. This is gradually being phased in this year. People can obtain their reports from this website: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp.
Earlier this year in his blog, law professor Eric Goldman discussed the difficulties and inconveniences he experienced when attempting to obtain his report.
But most disturbingly, MSNBC reporter Bob Sullivan writes:
An independent research firm has found that there are dozens of Web sites with names like My-Free-Credit-Report.com which claim to offer free reports, but instead steer consumers to sign up for subscription-based services sold by credit bureaus. Often, these paid sites are easier to find than the Congressionally-mandated site, AnnualCreditReport.com.
One might expect such crude exploitative practices from low-life companies or fraudsters. But no. . . These websites are linked to two major credit reporting agencies:
For example, visitors to Google’s search engine who type in “free credit report” get a list of links for Web sites that ultimately sell services from Experian and Trans Union. AnnualCreditReport.com, the only place to get a free credit report, doesn’t make the first page of search results.
Javelin Strategy & Research, which conducted the study, said it found 16 so-called “free credit report” sites connected to Experian and nine to Trans Union. Javelin found no such sites connected to the third bureau, Equifax.
At ConsumerInfo.com, an Experian site, visitors get the message “Free! Free! Free! Get your FREE Credit Report Online in Seconds!!!” But clicking on “Free report” sends users to a sign-up page. At the bottom of that page, in small print, is the message that a credit card is required and a fee will be charged.
“The low monthly fee of $9.95 will automatically be charged to your credit card after the trial period ends. What a small price indeed for financial peace of mind!” It says.
It seems quite unseemly that companies as big and powerful as Experian and TransUnion are acting like sleazy hucksters. These are the very companies that have a statutory duty to provide people with free credit reports. Perhaps we might be reassured that the FTC is watching over such practices:
Joel Winston, assistant director of financial practices at the Federal Trade Commission, says the agency is monitoring sites that are mimicking the AnnualCreditReport site, “and if we determine that consumers are being deceived into paying for something they should be getting for free, we are prepared to act against it.”
But the FTC has failed to act on a complaint by Chris Hoofnagle of EPIC filed back in 2003 that contended that these practices were deceptive.
These practices suggest that some credit reporting agencies are not discharging their statutory duty to provide free credit reports in good faith . . . to put it far too gently.
Originally posted at PrawfsBlawg
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.
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