Thursday, August 25, 2005

Credit-reporting scams abound on the internet

Starting Sept. 1, free credit reports will indeed be free. An article by Sandra Block of U.S.A. today warns us about the numerous credit-report scams on the internet designed to separate us from our money. One of the more notable cons to date was recently waged on consumers by none other than Experian:

Last week, Experian, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies, agreed to pay $950,000 to settle charges that it deceived consumers into signing up for its credit-monitoring service by offering free credit reports. The FTC said Experian's Internet sites, www.freecreditreport.com and www.consumerinfo.com, failed to adequately disclose that consumers who ordered their credit reports would automatically be charged $79.95.

The FTC also alleged that Experian sought to associate its Internet sites with the government-mandated free credit-report program. The Internet site for that program, which has been phased in across the country since December 2004, is www.annualcreditreport.com. Experian disputes that charge.

Block also warns us of impostor sites:

These sites use misspellings and sound-alike names to misdirect consumers to sites unrelated to the government-mandated site. The FTC has sent letters to 130 impostor sites warning them that attempts to mislead consumers are illegal.

Researchers for the World Privacy Forum, a consumer education organization, found 112 sites in June that were using some combination or close spelling of "annual credit report."

Some of the sites asked for Social Security numbers, birth dates and other sensitive information, the World Privacy Forum report said. Others directed consumers to sites that sell identity theft or other credit-related products and services, the report said.

A few contained links to pornographic sites.

Consumers land on impostor sites in two primary ways: by mistyping the name of the official Internet site, or by using a search engine and clicking on the wrong result, the report said.

The internet is convenient but can be a little scary sometimes. Fortunately for those who are still intimidated by this brave new world of electronic-information, the telephone still offers a comfortable alternative.

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