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NBC's Brian Mooar ReportingThe Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on companies that offer free credit reports that really aren't free at all.
The government's first target was the web site FreeCreditReport.com, owned by credit giant Experian.
Lydia Parnes, Federal Trade Commission: "Consumers were promised a free credit report and then tricked into purchasing an expensive credit monitoring service."
The FTC says millions of consumers may have been charged $79 a year if they didn't cancel within thirty days. An official with Experian says the company regrets any confusion caused by its web site.
Experian agreed in court this week to make its fine print more prominent, and it agreed to pay the government 950-thousand dollars. Consumer advocates say it's a good, but modest first step.
Ed Mierzwinski, Public Interest Research Group: "Experian should have been fined millions of dollars for deceiving consumers and abusing the public trust."
Lillie Coney, Electronic Privacy Information Center: "It would have been nice to see them refund millions of dollars back to consumers."
Congress has mandated that all Americans get a free copy of their credit report, a necessity if you want to buy a house or a car, or make sure you're not a victim of identity theft.
There's only one "official" government approved web site, that's AnnualCreditReport.com. But the FTC says there are more than a hundred look-alike and imposter web sites out there waiting to lure in unsuspecting consumers. The government says buyer beware, especially when it's free.