Most Americans have seen the humorous television commercials or email solicitations from companies like FreeCreditReport.com (pictured) and Freescore.com that claim to help consumers protect their credit profiles. Well, it turns out that many consumers who sought to take advantage of those offers for "free credit reports" were often misled into signing up for credit monitoring services or other products.
"The Federal Trade Commission has received complaints from consumers who thought they were ordering their free annual credit report, and yet couldn't get it without paying fees or buying other services," the agency said on its website.
Often, after receiving the credit report as part of a "trial period," a monthly fee of $15 or more for credit monitoring services would kick in, surprising consumers on their next bank or credit card statement.
Starting Friday, the Federal Trade Commission will begin enforcing a new rule that aims to stop such deceptive marketing of "free credit reports." As part of the Obama administration's Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, the FTC's Free Credit Reports Rule was amended to require that all ads for "free credit report" offers have clear disclosures. For example, websites offering free credit reports must have a disclosure, across the top of each page that reads:
"You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law."
The disclosure must also have links to AnnualCreditReport.com and FTC.gov. A similar disclosure requirement for television and radio advertisements goes into affect in September.
Consumers can order their truly free, no-strings-attached credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Federal law allows consumers to receive a free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and Transunion – once every 12 months.
Websites such as FreeCreditReport.com, Freescore.com and CreditReport.com have offered "free" credit reports for years, but now they will have to change their descriptions of those offers. Expect them to start offering low-cost credit reports or other services that provide credit-report-like products which aren't official credit reports from the three major agencies.