Credit Monitoring For Free, Thank You

Thanks to a settlement over allegations that TransUnion Corp. improperly sold consumers' personal data, you can now take advantage of their credit monitoring services at no cost.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Free credit monitoring services for nine moths. That's what one of the major credit bureaus has agreed to provide to as many as 150 million consumers. This is part of a settlement that stems from allegations that the credit bureaus improperly sold consumers personal data. Day to Day's Personal Finance Contributor, Michelle Singletary, is here to tell us about this settlement and how you can register for the free service. Hi, Michelle, what are the details of this class-action settlement?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: This is a lawsuit that was in the making for about 10 years, and finally this year there was a settlement. And it's against TransUnion, one of the three big credit bureaus that was selling consumers information for marketing purposes. And essentially they agreed to pay about 75 million dollars for a fund, and part of that fund includes up to nine months of free credit monitoring. You can get either six months or nine months. And so, if you're concerned about identity theft, it might be worth definitely registering for this free service.

CHADWICK: So, just to review, the credit service would tell you what your credit score is, and normally it costs a fee to get this information. Here you can get it for free for up to nine months. Who's eligible for this now?

SINGLETARY: Unless you were a conscientious objector to borrowing, which is just about nobody these days, you are eligible for this lawsuit. So if you had a credit account that you opened between 1987 and May of 2008, you are eligible for this lawsuit. And there are a couple of options. There's the six months credit monitoring, where essentially, as you said, they will send you information that is in - only your TransUnion credit report, and you also get access to your TransUnion credit score. You can also opt for a cash-only payment, and that's if there's some money left over from the fund. Now, I've covered class-action lawsuits before, there's hardly ever any cash settlement. If it is, it's enough to buy you, like, you know, some kid's meal at a fast food restaurant.

CHADWICK: Yes, not a lot of money.

SINGLETARY: Not a lot of money. You can also choose six months and cash option, or the nine months, and with the nine months you don't get any cash.

CHADWICK: But you do have to choose among them?

SINGLETARY: Yes.

CHADWICK: You have to say, OK, I'm going to take this one or the other one.

SINGLETARY: Right. You can only choose one option. Like, I signed up, and I did the six months and cash because I figured, if there's some cash, even if it's five bucks, you know, I'll get both.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SINGLETARY: But some people might want the extra three months of the nine months option. Just look through and see what's offered. And the other good thing is, this is not one of those negative option kind of options. At the end of the six months or nine months, they're not going to automatically enroll you into a plan in which you have to pay, because the six month is worth about 60 dollars and the nine month is about 115 dollars. So they will absolutely stop it, and you have to say, I want this back. But listen, for six or nine months you've got someone looking through your TransUnion credit file, so it's worth it.

CHADWICK: You know, Michelle, what you're saying is anyone who has applied for credit, essentially in the last 20 years, any credit card, is eligible for this. There is a benefit, including maybe some cash, sitting there on the table. You can write in and get it. That's it?

SINGLETARY: That's it. That's exactly right. And you do have to register for it. It's not automatic, and you have to go to www.listclassaction.com. And once you go to the site, you click on the link for Register for Benefits. And then they will email you and tell you later when you can actually start getting the monitoring service.

CHADWICK: We will link to you and to this website at our site, that's npr.org. Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post and contributor to Day to Day. Michelle, thank you.

SINGLETARY: You're welcome.

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Correction Sept. 25, 2008

The interview should have made clear that the offer of free credit monitoring services expired the next day, Sept. 24, 2008.

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