freecreditreport

TV today, ANOTHER annoying ad from FreeCreditReport.

There are plenty of reasons to despise these ads, and I agree with all of them.  However, for the sake of concision, I would like to refer to several of the most disgusting:

1) The implication that FreeCreditReport will protect you from identity theft.

This is a complete lie.  FreeCreditReport simply allows you to check your credit (and not for free, but rather at a significant cost).  It doesn’t protect you from identity theft such as services like LifeLock, etc.  I know this from personal experience.  I signed up for ‘Free’CreditReport in 2005.  During this time an ex-girlfriend (current at the time) stole my identity and used it to buy a car.  Not only was this activity not flagged, it didn’t even show up.

As a side note, once I figured out this supposedly ‘free service’ was in fact a scam (when they charged my credit card), they would not refund my money.  I ultimately reported them to my bank as a fraudulent transaction and had the charge reversed.

2) The message that credit trumps all other considerations when choosing who to marry; and by extension, that happiness is derived from having good credit (and the ability to purchase more stuff), not marrying for love.

In the ad where FreeCreditReport’s idiotic protagonist laments about his wife’s credit, he sings that if he had only known about her credit before marriage, he would have dumped her and been a happy bachelor.  The ad shows his wife slaving away in the background with his laundry while he complains about her credit.  First, this is wildly insulting to women; seeming to imply that a girl with bad credit is a loser good for nothing but house chores.  Second, this ad’s message is that the most valuable things in life are those that can be bought by having good credit.  This insults the viewer by assuming they are actually base enough to sympathize with this message, and insinuates that a person without good credit isn’t enough of a human being to be worth marrying.

3) The idea that EVERYTHING requires good credit by applying it to situations where credit may not actually matter.

FreeCreditReport’s ads also attempt to break new ground by applying credit to unnecessary and unrealistic situations; specifically: purchasing a bike, a cellphone, or a cheap car.

Starting with the least offensive, the car purchase isn’t that much of a stretch.  However, many lower-priced used cars are (and should be) purchased in cash.  Buying an older used car on credit, accounting for taxes and depreciation, is phenomenally stupid, since the loan could outlive the car.  If the protagonist had saved a reasonable amount to put down on a new car ($3000-$5000), but was denied on credit, he could still buy a reliable, decent looking car for that price, not the jalopy in the ad.

More offensive is the cellphone.  Pay-as-you-go plans are available at most carriers without credit checks.  Most of the phones available on regular plans can also be purchased with pay-as-you-go plans anywhere between $50-$400 (depending on the phone).  Taking this further, what is more upsetting isn’t the protagonist was too stupid to figure out how to get a decent phone without good credit, but that the ad implies cell phone carriers should punish poor credit customers by sticking them with terrible phones.

Finally, unless it’s specialty, the average bike can and should be purchased in cash.  This reminds me of those Blue Hippo computers ads where the actors says “I wanted to purchase a computer but my credit wasn’t good enough!”.  If you are making a <$1000 purchase on credit, it’s irresponsible and you probably don’t need it. The bike segment amounts to nothing more than a cheap scare-tactic.  It’s also insulting in that it assumes to viewer is stupid enough to believe the message.

4) The message that having a good job requires good credit.

Referring here to the ‘pirate’ waiter ad, which was probably the first released ad in this series.  This ad implies that employers check credit and hire based on your score.  This is problematic in two ways.

First, employers ARE checking credit more and more often, which is bad for employees and employers.  Credit reports and background checks are often inaccurate (several years ago a background check of myself indicated that I may have committed a felony in 1986… at age 2).  Although a background check (if accurate) could be a useful tool for an employer, a credit report, in almost all cases, is not.  There is no established link between someone’s handling of their personal finances and their effectiveness on the job; and someone who’s identity was stolen (like in the ad) is certainly not a poor candidate for hiring because of it.  A person turned down because their credit is marred by identity theft is a needlessly discarded opportunity and hurts both the candidate and the employer.

Second, this ad makes a similar statement as in point #2.  It implies that credit is more important than a person’s achievements or qualifications.  In other words, it suggests a situation where (for example) an MBA student who took on debt to complete college should be denied any opportunity for employment in their field until their credit is improved by paying off their loans through years of working at a minimum wage job.  This message is degrading, discouraging, and dehumanizing at it’s very core.

So what’s the purpose of all the degenerative messages present in these ads?  Selling more credit reports.  FreeCreditReport is not independent, and there is a sub-message in their ads more significant than just trying to get people to sign up for their service.  Experian (the credit reporting agency that runs FreeCreditReport) is promoting a dramatically increased use of credit reports in society.  Their goal is to emphasize to everyone that credit reports mean EVERYTHING.  In other words, we shouldn’t get married, hire employees, look for a job, buy a car, a bike, a cellphone, or make ANY life decisions without first paying Experian to run a credit report. Even if credit reports were accurate, were actually a fair indicator of a person’s quality, and not an invasion of privacy, this message would be problematic.  As it is, credit reports are often inaccurate (credit agencies want to sell reports, they don’t care what’s in them, since they have a practical monopoly), don’t really show anything about a person’s character (besides how well they can play the credit game), and pool everyone’s personal information (without their permission) in one easy area which any hacker, stalker, or identity thief can access either illegally or for a small price.

With that in consideration, the final, most disgusting, most infuriating thing about FreeCreditReport’s ads is they are an attempt to fundamentally change our social perspective in favor of the credit reporting monopoly, while hurting everyone else in the process. It’s a national scam that makes Bernie Madoff look like a candy bar thief at 7-11.

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