MONEY

Free credit report ads: Stop the music!

The new credit card reform law is full of good consumer protections, but here’s one you might not know about: It’s going to require companies like FreeCreditReport.com (owned by credit bureau Experian) to clearly state that their services aren’t actually free.

Who doesn’t love those FreeCreditReport.com commercials? You know, the ones featuring the lovable 20-something singing about his credit troubles in a variety of musical genres? In the first, he’s dressed in pirate gear and crooning about how he has to work in a seafood restaurant because his identity was stolen (it works best if you don’t think too hard about it). My favorite jingle is the one that has him singing about how he married his dream girl, only to find out that her credit was bad, too. You can see all the commercials here:

The only problem, of course, is that FreeCreditReport.com is not really free. In order to get your report through the site, you must sign up for a trial membership in the site’s “Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring” program. If you don’t cancel your membership within a 7-day trial period, you’re billed $14.95 a month. And plenty of people have fallen for the site’s promise without realizing they were going to be billed. The Better Business Bureau has received 9,865 complaints about the site in the last 36 months, with some complainants saying that they kept being billed even after canceling membership.

But now, thanks to the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, companies touting free credit report services must disclose in their ads that consumers are entitled by law to receive a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, and that the official web site to obtain them is AnnualCreditReport.com. And radio and TV ads must clearly state, in both the audio and the video, “This is not the free credit report provided for by federal law.”

That’s good news, since the web-only public service commercials the Federal Trade Commission created in response to FreeCreditReport.com’s ads need all the help they can get:

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