HTWW was on vacation when the fabulously awful Ben Stein lost his New York Times column, possibly as a result of the yeoman efforts of Felix Salmon, the world's most relentless Ben Stein basher. I regret missing the opportunity to dance on Stein's grave, but as fate would have it, the saga is far from over.
The tipping point in Stein's ouster was his work as a television pitchman for FreeScore.com, an operation that purported to be offering consumers their credit report scores for free. But the company's real business model was to hook unwary callers into a monthly $29.95 "credit monitoring" service.
The Wall Street Journal explained how the dodge worked.
FreeScore.com, however, charges a $1 "processing" fee upfront and after that is only free for seven days. After that, a $29.95 monthly fee applies. (Many credit-score monitoring services offer free 30-day trials.) To actually get the service for free, a consumer would have to sign up, request cancellation within seven days and ask the customer service representative to refund the $1 fee.
After initially savaging the New York Times for employing a columnist who was doing commercials for such a disreputable business, Salmon later learned from a blogger going by the nom de plume "flaneur de fraude," that the owner of FreeScore.com, Adaptive Marketing, a subsidiary of an outfit currently called Vertrue, has a long history of similar behavior.
You can read about Vertrue's run-ins with the Better Business Bureau, numerous state attorneys general, and outraged consumers who found unexplained charges on their credit cards at the Washington Post, ConsumerAffairs.com and in a letter to Vertrue's CEO from a Senate subcommittee chair.
So why am I jumping in now? Well, today, Felix Salmon posted an update. Adaptive Marketing is trying to bully "flaneur du fraude."
On Aug. 14, alleging "multiple statements accusing Adaptive of inappropriate, deceptive, and illegal conduct, including allegations of 'running a predatory bait-and-switch campaign' and engaging in 'deceptive business practices,'" Adaptive filed for a "Bill of Discovery" against Yahoo! Inc., aiming to find out the identity of "flaneur de fraude" -- who happens to have a Yahoo e-mail address.
Public Citizen Litigation Group is asking the court to quash the motion, and you can read their memo to that effect here.
Flaneur posted an article on her blog summarizing and praising Salmon's post about Adaptive and Stein. She conducted her own research and added several details about Vertrue, providing Vertrue's corporate history and recounting several examples of what she called that company's "deceptive business practices." She cited a lawsuit brought against Vertrue by the New York Attorney General, a discussion of Vertrue in a report from the Federal Trade Commission that cited settlements with several state attorneys general, a demand for documents from the Senate Commerce Committee, and several consumer class actions.
I can see Vertrue's point! Who wants that kind of information spread out all over the Internet, where it might dissuade potential customers from making that lucrative phone call in search of their "free" credit score? Which is why it is our responsibility to spread the news about Ben Stein's employer as far and wide as possible. Bloggers of the world, unite -- it's never too late to beat up on Ben Stein, one more time.
P.S. Just in case an HTWW reader ever ends up in the position of attempting to get a bogus charge on their credit card removed, Consumer Affairs offers up a terrific sample letter that should get the job done.