FTC Cracks down on ‘Free’ Credit Report Web Sites

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As of April 1, 2010, any Web site offering a “free” credit report that isn’t really free must prominently disclose on its site that free credit reports are available under Federal law at AnnualCreditReport.com. The new FTC rules apply only to “free” credit reports that are tied to the purchase of a product or service, or a trial of a product or service that a consumer must cancel to avoid charges.

The new rules are part of the CARD Act of 2009 and are aimed at reducing confusion about where you can obtain your free credit report under Federal law. For years, many companies have capitalized on consumer confusion, advertising free credit reports that aren’t really free and deceptively charging consumers for products and services they didn’t necessarily want.

As a response to the new rules, many Web sites are replacing free credit report offers with free credit score offers, as the provisions only apply to credit reports. In many cases, the deceptive marketing practices remain intact however – You can get your free credit score only when you sign up for another product or service, like credit monitoring.

It’s important to exercise caution when navigating the free credit report and score waters online. To help ensure you don’t fall into the free-but-not-really-free trap, apply the credit card test. If a company offers you something for free but requires you to enter your credit card number to get it, it’s probably not free.

While there are a lot of questionable free credit report and score Web sites out there, there are a few that deliver on their promises. Quizzle.com, for example, gives consumers a totally free credit report and free credit score, no catches, no trial subscriptions, no credit card required. In fact, it’s the only site that offers both for free, no strings attached. Because Quizzle is truly free, it isn’t required to display the new FTC disclosure.

The new FTC rules apply to online advertising currently, but will extend to TV and radio in September.

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