Ben Stein selling ‘free’ credit reports for $29.95

July 16, 2009

That’s right. Ben Stein is now hawking FREE credit reports for $29.95. Man, the interest just kills ya every time, doesn’t it?

Stein is now the spokesman for, and in addition to appearing in annoying ads on the web like the one here to the right, he’s doing commercials:

“I went to and found out my score for free”, says Ben, while an annoying squirrel holds up a sign with the word “FREE” in some horrible brush-script font.

A few points are worth noting here. First, the score itself is not very useful to consumers. What’s useful is the report — if there’s an error on the report, then the consumer can try to rectify it. Secondly, and much more importantly, if you want a free credit report, there’s only one place to go: That’s the place where the big three credit-rating agencies will give you a genuinely free copy of your credit report once a year, as required by federal law.

You won’t be surprised to hear that is not free: in order to get any information out of them at all, you have to authorize them to charge you a $29.95 monthly fee. They even extract a dollar out of you up front, just to make sure that money is there.

Stein, here, has become a predatory bait-and-switch merchant, dangling a “free” credit report in front of people so that he can sock them with a massive monthly fee for, essentially, doing nothing at all. Naturally, the people who take him up on this offer will be those who can least afford it.

Well defrauding the public is Stein’s specialty. This is also grounds for dismissal at the NY Times, where Stein writes as the “Everybody’s Business” columnist, not only because of the hypocrisy of working as a financial advice columnist while simultaneously deceiving the public  into paying for a service that’s available for free, but also for being a paid shill for that very product, which is the very definition of a conflict of interest.Oh, and then there’s this:

Update: Ryan Chittum notes that the new credit card act requires advertisers to inform consumers that the only place for a free credit report is; they will also be required to include a   statement that “This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.” When does this act come into force?

Update 2: It’s also worth quoting the NYT’s own ethics guidelines:

40. It is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid.

44. Staff members may not engage in financial counseling (except through the articles they write). They may not manage money for others, offer investment advice, or help operate an investment company of any sort, with or without pay.

Stein isn’t a staff member. But the NYT generally holds its columnists to the same ethical standards.

Further, is allegedly a subsidiary of Vertrue Inc., which has a long history of  deceptive business practices.

Well, as a character in a movie once said, “We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking.” (Can’t believe Cameron Diaz turned out to be the only sane one in that movie).

So if you want a free credit report that REALLY is FREE, go to and accept no substitute. It’s the only one that’s federally mandated: