Taking a page from companies advertising free credit reports, a number of firms are now promoting free credit scores, including the company that invented the FICO score:
No disclaimers in the ad. Nothing. Maybe it’s really totally free!
When you click the ad, you are taken to this page on the MyFICO site:
Still no obvious strings. No asterisk after the word “free”. Go ahead and click the picture to see it full size. There, on the bottom is the VERY small disclaimer that reads:
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: When you order your free FICO Score here, you will begin your 10-day trial membership in Score Watch®. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 10-day trial period, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.
The free score is only free when you sign up for a free trial, and if you fail to cancel that free trial within a short 10-days, you will be billed $14.95 monthly.
If you missed that inconspicuous disclosure and click to get your free score, you will be asked to part with a lot of personal information, including your date of birth, social security number, password, and full name and address — all before you are told on a subsequent page that you have to give a credit card number and it will be dinged $14.95 a month if you don’t cancel quickly.
FreeCreditReport.com got better about disclosure after the FTC went after them. And a new consumer law, the CARD Act requires better disclosure in ads promising free credit reports where you are really signing up for a trial of a continuing service. The law does not explicitly extend to offers of free credit scores, however. And therein lies the problem. Though general consumer law would require better disclosure, not until enough complaints get filed against “free score” offers, will disclosure likely improve.