Credit Bureaus taking “advantage” of consumers

With identity theft running rampant these days, it’s important to keep tabs on your personal credit report at least once a year.  A recent article in the LA Times points out that credit bureaus make it very difficult to even purchase a copy of your credit report from them WITHOUT purchasing their “credit monitoring” services which come along with a monthly fee.

When I was a sales rep for Experian, I received many calls from consumers at my office trying to get a copy of their report, which I could only forward them on to our National Consumer Assistance Center or our Website www.Experian.com.  Now if I try going to Experian.com to purchase a copy of my credit report, I get a great offer to purchase my credit report including a credit score for just one dollar!  Great deal right?  However, once I entered my information and clicked “Submit and Continue,” I came upon this screen:

Of course I get to the bottom of my credit report order form and notice it says I will be enrolled in “Triple Advantage,” Experian’s monthly credit monitoring service, along with my purchase.

Obviously Experian and the other bureaus are in the credit report business and have a great product to offer consumers.  However, if you are giving consumers the bait and switch or make it very difficult to make simple purchases, those customers will go to one of your competitors for their purchase in a heartbeat.

Playing these tricks on consumers also affects the brands of the three bureaus.  Brand awareness of the three major credit bureaus cannot be that strong, since they all basically do the same thing.  A lot of people mistake AnnualCreditReport.com with FreeCreditReport.com in thinking they can get the one free copy of their credit report with no hassles.  I’m sure FreeCreditReport.com has the most brand awareness, but usually nowhere in the advertising does it state it is an Experian website, so the company is performing a bit of brand cannibalization in not communicating the website is an Experian property.  You can check out all of their ads as I found a great YouTube montage of all the them in one video here-

So what are the alternatives here?  Well, I can think of a few.  Firstly, they can make it a  lot easier for customers to opt in to their credit monitoring services rather than trying tirelessly to opt out.  Another option is to actually put a link on the “Triple Advantage” jargon so people understand what the features and benefits of the program are so they can make an informed decision.  Finally, each credit bureau could increase the presence of the parent companies  into their offshoot websites in hoping of driving consumers to their own website and discovering the many other products they have available.  One example is “AutoCheck” which is basically the same thing as the way more popular “Carfax” which advertises all over the place.  On their site, you can see it is an Experian property, but only as a subscript of the logo and a small disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage.  Perhaps if they re-branded to be “Experian AutoCheck” and “Experian Triple Advantage”, they would grow brand recognition as well as not confuse people with the repetitive message of “free” on the FreeCreditReport.com commercials.

As we know, nothing in life is free and people will be disappointed if they go to the website expecting such things and not receive them.

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