The old maxim, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is,” holds up especially well in the world of personal finance. The concept of getting free credit scores has been mined by con-artists and scammers repeatedly. Unfortunately, most of these scams are perpetrated by well known companies and by the credit reporting bureaus themselves.
The free credit score scam usually goes like this. A company offers to give you a “free” credit score. To get your free score you have to sign up. If you don’t read every word on the screen or printed on the page very carefully (especially the ones in fine print), you might think that you are just signing up to get a free credit score. Gotcha!
What you are actually signing up for is a “free” trial membership in the company’s credit monitoring service. The trial is free for 30 days, or 90 days, but at the end of the free trial, you automatically subscribe to the fully paid subscription. This is why you had to enter a credit card number when you signed up. If they actually had to collect money from you at the end of your free trial, everyone would say, “No thanks.” Instead, they use that credit card to automatically bill you. Most of the time, they bill you for the whole year, in advance, all at once. That way, by the time you notice it on your credit card bill, it is too late for you to back out and get a full refund and since there is no way you want to legitimately subscribe to the service, they get you for 12 months instead of one month.
Worst of all, is that they will automatically renew your subscription when it expires, so 12 months later when you’ve forgotten all about how they screwed you over in the first place, they can do it all over again. It stinks of fraud, but all of the “disclosures” are made (again in tiny print, or buried in a six-page document), so technically it passes legal muster.
Transunion, Equifax, and Experian all pull this marketing scam on their own websites, right next to the part where they try to trick you into getting your “free” credit report that isn’t really free either.
Don’t forget you can get a real free credit report every 12 months (that’s once a year) by law. Don’t ever pay or subscribe to something to get your legitimate free credit report.
Tip: If you have to enter a credit card number, you are getting scammed. Real free credit reports DO NOT require you to enter a credit card number at all.
Free Credit Report from CreditKarma Scam Too?
Knowing all of this about how credit scores work and how credit repair scams an the like go down, I ignored the offer of “free” credit scores from Credit Karma. Scam, scam, scam, I thought.
But, then, I read a write-up about Credit Karma by a financial journalist that I happen to trust and respect. (It is a very small club.) That got me wondering about how it could be true that Credit Karma gives you your credit score for free.
With a legitimate financial writer’s endorsement in mind, I decided to try out Credit Karma. However, I did it very warily.
First, I signed up for a new email address to use so that I would know if Credit Karma sold my email address or spammed it with credit card offers.
Next, I obtained a one-time use online credit card number from one of my credit cards and set the amount to $1 (the lowest allowed) and the expiration to the next month (the shortest allowed.)
Then, I went to Credit Karma’s website at www.creditkarma.com
(There is no link, because I want readers to know that I do not get any sort of kickback, payment, or referral bonus for this review of Credit Karma.)
Continue here to see my full Credit Karma review.