LOS ANGELES (CN) - Experian's "free credit reports" are not free at all, but trick customers into signing up for a credit monitoring service that can cost up to $179 a year, consumers say in a federal class action. The class claims Experian does this despite promising the FTC in 2005 that it would "stop its fraud" - but all it did was change the name.
Experian runs commercials for FreeCreditReport.com, which are frequently broadcast in the L.A. area. FreeCreditReport.com is a "for-profit business" owned by Experian, according to the 48-page complaint, with 82 pages of attachments.
The class claims that when consumers go to the Web site for a free report, they are required to give personal financial information, which Experian uses to enroll them into its Triple Advantage credit-monitoring program - without warning.
Experian charges their credit cards $14.95 a month for Triple Advantage, the class says. This makes Experian's "extensive use of the form 'free' fraudulent and misleading," the complaint states.
Until the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint with similar allegations against Experian in 2005, the company had been operating under the name ConsumerInfo. The Commission's allegations led to an agreement in which the company "agreed to stop its fraud," according to the complaint.
But it did not stop, the class claims; it adopted a new name and continued doing it.
None of Experian's commercials make direct mention of the Triple Advantage program, the class claims.
On the Web site, the company acknowledges that neither ConsumerInfo.com nor FreeCreditReport.com are affiliated with the annual free credit report program, which provides consumers with one free report each year from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
The class action cites a November 2009 New York Times article that reported that for "the vast majority of consumers whose credit status doesn't change quickly or drastically, a monitoring service is a waste of money."
The class alleges unfair competition, false advertising, willful deception, fraud, negligence and unjust enrichment. It seeks damages, restitution and an injunction. It is represented by Joseph Ferrucci with Brown & Charbonneau of Irvine.