5 On Your Side

Credit Report Web Sites In Trouble Over 'Free Trial' Membership

Posted August 18, 2005 11:29 a.m. EDT

— When something says free, you think it's free, right? However, the Federal Trade Commission just slapped the parent company of two popular Web sites with a hefty fine saying 9 million people were charged for a "free" service.

The Federal Trade Commission said a marketing strategy by Freecreditreport.com and Consumerinfo.com is misleading and deceptive.

The FTC said the problem is when those 9 million consumers signed up for the free report, they also signed up for a free 30-day trial of a credit monitoring service. If they did not cancel within 30 days, their credit card was automatically charged $79.95.

The FTC said the companies billed credit cards even though they told consumers the numbers were needed "only to establish your account," not disclosing the charge and not getting permission to charge accounts violates federal law.

As part of the settlement with the FTC, the sites now prominently display charges if the "trial membership" is not canceled within 30 days. The companies have to pay back customers and pay the FTC a fine of almost $1 million.

Both companies are operated by Experian, which is one of the three credit reporting agencies. Experian denies its ads were misleading. The only official place to get a free credit report is annualcreditreport.com. A free yearly report will be available to North Carolinians beginning Sept. 1.