'Free Credit Score' Company Tries To Unmask Anonymous Blogger; Sues Wikipedia
from the bait-and-switch? dept
You may recall last month that Ben Stein was fired from the NY Times after it was revealed that he was pitching “free credit reports” under the brand FreeScore.com, from a company, Adaptive Marketing, whose parent company, Vertue, has a reputation for figuring out ways to make those credit reports not so free. Reuters’ Felix Salmon helped expose this in a blog post entitled Ben Stein, predatory bait-and-switch merchant. An pseudonymous blogger under the name flaneur de fraude linked to Salmon’s post, and quoted the “predatory bait-and-switch” part.
Adaptive Marketing didn’t go after Felix Salmon for that phrase… but it did go after this anonymous blogger, starting pre-litigation discovery to try to unmask who it is. Perhaps that’s because in the blog post agreeing with Salmon, the blogger detailed a rather long and detailed list of instances where Adaptive Marketing’s parent company, Vertue, has gotten in trouble for shady practices involving getting recurring charges onto users’ credit cards. Among the links on the blog? One to Vertue’s Better Business Bureau rating, where it has a solid “F.” Paul Alan Levy, who alerted us to this story and is representing the blogger, notes, “When even the Better Business Bureau disses a company, you know there must be a big problem.” Levy continues:
Although the burden on a defamation plaintiff would be to prove falsity, in this case, of course, it is hard to believe that what the blogger said isn’t true. Instead of just getting a credit score, consumers are entitled to obtain their entire credit report free of charge at the government-mandated web site annualcreditreport.com. And the ads in question solicit telephone calls in which the service of credit monitoring is at best hawked, and at worst, as many consumers have complained, slipped in — it remains to be seen which is true. Such services “are often overrated, oversold, and overpriced.” But regardless of whether the services are worthwhile, and whether they are charged to consumers’ credit cards after a genuine consent, “bait and switch” seems to be a fair characterization of what Adaptive is doing.
Adaptive and Vertrue have been similarly criticized in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times, but it doesn’t claim defamation by companies that can afford to defend themselves. So Adaptive’s suit seems to be just the latest in a long line of cases in which companies that don’t want to be criticized seek to cleanse their reputations through subpoenas sent as a means of intimidation to those who may not be able to defend themselves. It remains to be seen whether the Streisand effect gives them second thoughts
In the meantime, the blogger in question is is pointing out both that Vertrue is also going after Wikipedia (good luck with that) and is now dealing with a Senate subpoena. Perhaps threatening an anonymous blogger for pointing out some questions about the company’s past isn’t such a wise move. It only seems likey to draw just a bit more attention to these questions than if the company had just left things alone. Or… even better… cleaned up its act.