Agency orders TransUnion, Equifax to pay $23M for false ads

Federal regulators have ordered credit-reporting agencies TransUnion and Equifax to pay about $23 million for falsely advertising that the credit scores they sell consumers are the same ones lenders use to make credit decisions.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Tuesday that TransUnion and Equifax must pay fines totaling $5.5 million and return about $17.6 million to wronged consumers. The agency also said the two companies lured consumers into payments of $16 or more per month for credit scores and related products such as credit monitoring.

TransUnion, based in Chicago, and Atlanta-based Equifax Inc. are two of the three major credit-reporting agencies in the U.S., along with Experian. The credit scores they generate are used to determine whether consumers can qualify for a mortgage, a car loan, a cellphone plan and a range of other loans.

The reporting agencies base the scores on a consumer's history of paying off debt, how much debt they carry and other factors.

The CFPB said the scores sold to consumers by TransUnion and Equifax were not typically used by lenders to make credit decisions.

The alleged violations occurred between July 2011 and March 2014, according to the agency.

TransUnion and Equifax agreed to clearly inform consumers about the nature of the scores they're selling and to provide an easy way to cancel products and services.

TransUnion said in a statement it continues to believe that its advertising has been clear and has complied with laws.

"Our trial credit monitoring service has given consumers low-cost access to their credit report and credit score and allowed them to conveniently cancel monitoring services at any time online or by phone," the company said. "However, we are committed to making improvements to our consumer experience, and over the past several months we have worked cooperatively with the CFPB to be the industry leader in designing the enhanced, voluntary marketing disclosures that go beyond the current legal and regulatory requirements to which we agreed as part of this settlement."

Equifax noted that the CFPB's investigation continued for nearly three years, and said it made changes to address the agency's concerns soon after the investigation began. "While Equifax does not believe it has violated any laws and has not admitted any liability, Equifax determined it was in its best interest to resolve the matter with the CFPB," the company's statement said.