I guess this really is the season of giving. Today Experian -- one of the big three credit reporting agencies -- said it would dole out free credit reports during the month of December from its aptly named www.freecreditreport.com website. Those left out of phase one of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) free-credit-report-to-all rollout -- that's three-quarters of the nation still on hold -- can now get a bonus free peek into their file.

A more pessimistic reporter would see this campaign as a clever strategy designed to use a potentially profit-busting piece of legislation for a long-term branding and customer acquisition opportunity. But that'd be like tightening your grip on your purse so the kind gentleman holding the door open for you doesn't steal your wallet. There's a place for such unfortunate people who are unable to accept a kind gesture without question. It's called "journalism school."

It doesn't take four years of partying at an athletics-focused state school to know what to look for in a so-called "free" offer. Things like:

  • Having to provide a credit card number to get the freebie.
  • Access only after signing up for some service that you'll later have to remember to cancel or else be charged for.
  • Agreeing to open your electronic inbox for a barrage of Very Special Offers, Announcements, Insights, and Breaking News notices.

In the 23 minutes since getting my free credit report from Experian, none of these red flags have waved. As expected, freecreditreport.com visitors are encouraged to take a deeper for-pay peek into their file by signing up for the company's fraud-alert program, three-bureau report product, and credit score analyzer. But even those clicking around in a semiconscious state are not likely to end up roped into a costly service by surprise.

As far as I can tell, freecreditreport.com does indeed provide a bona fide free credit report. For those fond of fine print, you can read Experian's terms and conditions before parting with your personal data. Your free report can be accessed for 30 days, but to play it safe click the "print" option and keep a hard copy in your files for bedtime reading.

The website is not related to the FACT Act being rolled out on the West Coast today or the Fair Credit Reporting Act provisions that enable a consumer to get a free credit report for a number of bummer reasons.

Remember, the offer is good only through December. For those in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, and Utah who today are eligible for a Fed-mandated peek into your credit file, consider taking your free look at your Experian data through the corporate site this month and checking back on your FACTA-mandated report at www.annualcreditreport.com a few months hence.