Felix Salmon wades back into the moral morass that is Ben Stein. Stein has a new ad on the air. No longer content to shill eyewash and brain bleach, he's now pushing a credit report scam. Salmon explains:
“I went to freescore.com 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: annualcreditreport.com. 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 freescore.com 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.
Ben Stein was never much of a respectable guy, and this really seals the deal. Shilling for Nixon isn't awfully respectable, but it was national service, which is worth something. Shilling for bullshit (Expelled, bogus credit report sites) isn't about service. It isn't about truth. It's about filthy lucre and a willingness to sacrifice your fellow man for your own good.
Salmon hopes that this, at long last, will lead the New York Times to give Ben Stein's column to a better-qualified author. Hope springs eternal, and my pet rock's résumé is on its way.