'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

The WSJ's takedown of the company is pretty thorough. The Washington Post article is actually from a few years ago.

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.

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  • icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 11:46am

    Analyzing Comments....



    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    interval, 18 Sep 2009 @ 12:09pm

    I assume Stein is hurting for cash if he's willing to hawk for a crummy credit scoring company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    loki_racer (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 12:13pm

    Editor in the house?

    "In the meantime, the blogger in question is is pointing out both that Vertrue is"...

    "is is"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Free wow, 18 Sep 2009 @ 12:16pm

    I must agree with Interval, his funds must be low. I guess the rich will do anything to earn even more money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lucretious, 18 Sep 2009 @ 12:39pm

    Was it "THE" Ben Stein?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ibforum (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 1:32pm

    Hawking this and that.......

    I hope I do not get sued for saying that, I do not care for Ben Stein or his friends. Having said this, if more folks did not like Ben Stein then he and folks like him would not get hired to try and rip others off for pay. I propose a new rule.....Don't buy from people you don't like.....Sorry Ben!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2009 @ 1:56pm

    A small rant against credit agencies

    I have always been very curiously interested about companies that offer something for "Free" online. I suppose this started when I started seeing a number of outfits offering "free" credit reports after the FACT act of 2003.

    Sometimes, I wondered how these institutions worked, and what marketing-pertinent information was sold to cover the development, management, and employee salaries to allow such a website to exist.

    However, buried in the terms and conditions, people's information was used, abused, and provided to third parties. Part of these fly-by-night operations was perhaps due to the difficulty of procuring a copy of a credit report exasperated by Experian/TRW/Eqifax.

    But lo-and-behold, small companies showed up who knew how to get a copy of a credit report. Their price? Your privacy. And by privacy, I mean that many of these companies shared your credit information with other companies.

    Did you get a free credit report and your credit score above 700? Well, many of these unscrupulous companies would share your information with a third party according to their terms and conditions.

    But companies such as Adaptive Marketing are the least of our worries.

    Let me introduce you to a little outfit called Experian. Experian is the worst of the worst. You may recognize Experian as the company with the obsessant ads and has the guy with the banjo, FreeCreditReport.Com.

    I am convinced that Experian is the worst company on the face of the planet and has literally no regard for anything other than profit.

    Let me explain:
    Recently, Experian acquired a company called Talix, which owns "TheWorkNumber". TheWorkNumber is a service company that positions itself as an outsourced HR service company that does things such as background checks, credit checks, and even mails W2 forms for around 70+% of the Fortune 1000.

    Many companies choose to use TheWorkNumber because it simplifies HR costs, and when a company needs to verify employment, it shifts costs from an HR expense to a requester expense, as requests have to be paid by the requestor. TheWorkNumber collects somewhere around $5-15 per unique SSN.

    Information TheWorkNumber provides includes SSN verification, address, date of hire, date of termination, salary, last title, and any other recent pings to your credit report by third parties.

    Many of these sound like reasonable services to HR folks prior to interview, right?

    Well, recently, Experian's Richard Heath, that last month claimed his highest collegiate level of attainment was in Florida, owns a business within Experian to market your private information to collection agencies under a new program called "Go Collect".

    Now there are multiple problems with this. Experian seems to have taken liberties with it's original business charter to include marketing all of Experian information to bill collectors.

    If you're like me, and tend to work for Fortune 1000 companies, TheWorkNumber has all your information available.

    So hear this, Richard Heath, Senior Credit Risk Consultant at Equifax, class of 1988 and member of Theta Chi Fraternity:

    Richard, your little playground pushed me into Chapter 7, and if I ever, ever, ever, run into you, I will kick your ass like the little pussy you are and fully pay for Dave Ingram's plane ticket so he can watch.

    ...and you call yourself a credit and risk consultant.

    Fuck you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2009 @ 2:35pm

      Re: A small rant against credit agencies


      When this proverbial asskicking occurs, I'm also going to ask Kenneth Chenault, Jamie Dimon and Tim Geithner be in attendance.

      Vikram Pandit may want to be there, but for reasons unknown, he may not be able to attend.

      Why? Because you've desecrated your family name.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pickle Monger, 18 Sep 2009 @ 3:17pm

      Re: A small rant against credit agencies

      I'm not really a psychic but a I dabble a little... Here's my prediction: Techdirt - get ready for a lawsuit seeking to unmask this commenter. :-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2009 @ 3:18pm

      Re: A small rant against credit agencies

      Recent email follows:


      The relationship between employment and the “collectibity” of an account is explored in statistically rigorous detail in a recent whitepaper available on this page.

      The whitepaper, “Improving Collections Results,” looked retroactively at a large sample of accounts from a collections agency to see if The Work Number’s employment information correlated with actual collection results.

      The result: “The percentage of dollars collected is always higher, and by substantial amounts” for accounts that showed as employed on The Work Number at the beginning of the trial period.

      So how can you find out about those new jobs your accounts may be landing at this very moment?

      Just below the whitepaper, look for the links called “The Work Number Alert” and “The Work Number Filtered” – two great ways to boost the effectiveness of your efforts.

      Both of these services will let you quickly identify accounts that deserve your immediate attention based on employment data. You can even establish and manage a range of accounts for us to track and we’ll send you alerts on the schedule you chose, letting you know when fresh and actionable data has appeared for individual accounts.

      You’ll know immediately when someone in your portfolio lands a new position, or gets a new title because they were promoted. You’ll also find out when someone loses a position – yet another tool for managing your portfolio with the maximum possible effectiveness. Look for details at www.TheWorkNumber.Com/gocollect.

      So a hearty thanks to Experian for allowing me to check the backgrounds of many people I know (with permission, of course) so we know what you report.

      Does everyone know what you say?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    davebarnes (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 1:56pm

    Should I love this website or not?

    I just "wasted a perfectly good 45 minutes of my time" reading way too more about this lawsuit and its background.

    It's a good thing that I have the time to waste on this beautiful Friday afternoon.

    Why Vertrue is suing Yahoo boogles my mind as this will become much worse for them with a ThomsonReuters columnist writing about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Steve R. (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 1:57pm

    Where are my Royalty Payments?

    The Wallet wrote "Credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — earn money any time a consumer or a lender purchases a credit score through them. FICO also earns money for selling their scores."

    If we apply the logic of the MPAA/RIAA/Associated Press regarding the use of data that they claim to own, we should be getting a royalty payment each time these credit companies use our "private" data. If it is OK for these firms to privatize our data for their benefit, then there is nothing wrong for us in using data that is freely available.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GJ (profile), 18 Sep 2009 @ 2:36pm

    Ben Stein?... Ben Stein?... Ben Stein?... Anyone?... Anyone?...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TW Burger (profile), 20 Sep 2009 @ 11:51am

    Oh my!

    ...and America cried out: "SUE THE BASTARDS!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian, 20 Nov 2009 @ 12:44am

    freescore.com is definitely a scam and anyone associated with them, such as Ben Stein, should be seen in the same light.

    freescore.com made $60 in unauthorized credit card charges against me and I had to cancel my Bank of America credit card in order to stop the abuse.

    Thanks, Bank of America, as well, for the execellent, helpful service in your fraud department.

    The best advice for those who are want to get the best out of the credit industry: don't use credit cards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    floyd morrison, 19 Jan 2010 @ 9:03pm


    yesterday i attempted to take freescore.com's offer of a free credit report. they adversited fast, free, and easy. Wow, what a crock. after submitting my personal information, along with my credit card, they ended my application by saying something to the effect of "sorry, we can't help you." Then i called for fear of being charged monthly fees and they claimed to have no record of me or my credit card. At best, they are falsely advertising, if I get charged their fees then they enter into fraud. we will see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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