Ben Stein’s employer breaks the law

By Felix Salmon
April 5, 2010
Ben Stein's employer Freescore. A new FTC rule came into effect (read all 22 pages of it here), forcing all such websites to have a huge notice across the top of every web page, saying that is the ONLY authorized source for credit reports under federal law, and providing a prominent link to this page.

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April 2 was meant to be a great day in the history of sleazy free-credit-report websites like Ben Stein’s employer Freescore. A new FTC rule came into effect (read all 22 pages of it here), forcing all such websites to have a huge notice across the top of every web page, saying that is the ONLY authorized source for credit reports under federal law, and providing a prominent link to this page.

Yet here we are on April 5, and has no such disclaimer. Neither does And the biggest site of them all,, has no such notice either — but instead of simply ignoring the law, like its competitors, it’s trying to find a loophole. Instead of the notice, there’s a box saying this:

Why isn’t my Credit Report free?

Due to federally imposed restrictions it is no longer feasible for us to provide you with a free Experian Credit Report. So for now we’ll be charging you $1 for your Report. But instead of keeping your $1, we’ll donate 100% of the proceeds to, an online charity providing funds to classrooms in need.

Underneath that text is the DonorsChoose logo; it’s worth noting that the underlined text, which looks like a hyperlink, isn’t one, and that it’s impossible to click away from to I’d also be astonished if DonorsChoose approved of this despicable stunt.

The idea here is that if FreeCreditReport charges $1 and immediately donates that money to charity, then the report isn’t free any more, the name of the site notwithstanding, and therefore the site doesn’t need to carry the FTC-mandated notices. I do hope that the FTC doesn’t allow that kind of nose-thumbing.

But in any case it’s pretty clear that both and are simply in outright violation of the new laws. I look forward very much to seeing them slapped with some huge fines.


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This is obviously a big deal to you, so stop belly-achin’ and sue them


Posted by MarkWolfinger | Report as abusive

How exactly would Felix establish standing if he personally were to sue?

Posted by GingerYellow | Report as abusive

You seem to be quite passionate about these “sleazy” websites that give the public what they want, their credit SCORE. I would not put the banner up because, just like your article, it is extremely misleading. This site dumps into the reporting agency sites(Transunion, Experian, Equifax) They do not give you your SCORE, just your report, which is not what most of the public is looking for; although they can BUY their score once they are there. Unfair trade practices? probably, but I am sure you won’t be reporting that.

Posted by jmannen | Report as abusive

@jmannen, I think Mr. Salmon just really really really doesn’t like Ben Stein. Perhaps Ben stole his girlfriend in high school or something.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

How did Ben Stein ever get involved in being a pitchman for one of these sleazy credit-score hucksters. I was never impressed with him as aN ECONOMIST ANYWAY, BUT HE SHOULD MAINTAIN MORE DIGNITY THAN THIS.

Posted by watchdogg | Report as abusive

Sorry for the caps.

Posted by watchdogg | Report as abusive

Those commercials are pretty funny. I love Ben Stein

Posted by Storyburn_com | Report as abusive

How many consumers are even aware that this free disclosure law only covers the major Consumer Reporting Agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) but not the dozens of smaller “nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies” (as defined by FCRA Section 603(w))?

For example, the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (MIB) is a cooperative data exchange formed by the North American insurance industry more than 100 years ago. Today, the MIB operates the most extensive database of medical information on individuals who have previously applied for health, life, disability income, critical illness and long-term care insurance. The Federal Trade Commission warns that, “in addition to an individual’s credit history, data collected by Medical Information Bureau, Inc. may include medical conditions, driving records, family history, criminal activity, drug use, sexual orientation, and participation in hazardous sports, among other facts.” ed-insurance-because-of-a-medical-coding -error-in-her-mib-report-video/

Likewise, most consumers and even many insurance agents are unaware that insurers such as Humana, UnitedHealth Group , Aetna (AET), and Blue Cross plans, have ready access to applicants’ prescription histories. These online reports, available in seconds from a pair of little-known intermediary companies, typically include voluminous information going back five years on dosage, refills, and possible medical conditions. The reports also provide a numerical score predicting what a person may cost an insurer in the future. cription-analytics-corporate-databases-t rack-whats-in-your-medicine-cabinet/

An investigation last year by the Federal Trade Commission found that the two companies supplying these pharmacy profiles—Ingenix Inc. and Milliman Inc.—violated federal law for years by keeping the system hidden from consumers. But the FTC has merely required disclosure if prescription information causes denial of coverage or some other adverse action; the agency imposed no penalties. Disturbingly, the new laws do not require the Medical Information Bureau Inc., Ingenix Inc., or Millliman Inc. to offer consumers a safe, online source to request their medical report files; they only have “1-800″ numbers.

Posted by A_Alex | Report as abusive