Experian, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting bureaus, misled consumers by telling them that the credit scores they purchased from the company were the same ones that lenders used to make credit decisions, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Thursday.
And for that deception, the CFPB is fining Experian $3 million.
According to the CFPB, Experian developed its own proprietary credit scoring model, which it calls the “PLUS Score.” Experian then took that “PLUS Score” and applied it to information in consumer credit files to generate a credit score it offered directly to consumers.
Experian then marketed and sold the PLUS Score to consumers. The issue? The PLUS Score is “educational” and not used by lenders, the CFPB said.
According to the CFPB, lenders and other commercial users consider a consumers’ credit score when deciding whether to extend credit, but noted that no single credit score or credit scoring model is used by every lender.
The CFPB also notes that “in addition to the credit scores that are actually used by lenders, several companies have developed so-called 'educational credit scores,' which lenders rarely, if ever, use.”
Those scores are intended to educate consumers on their credit status.
But Experian represented to consumers that its educational credit score was the same credit score used by lenders, and that’s a violation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB said.
According to the CFPB, Experian violated Dodd-Frank from at least 2012 through 2014 by “falsely representing that the credit scores it marketed and provided to consumers were the same scores lenders use to make credit decisions.”
The CFPB adds that in some cases, there were “significant” differences between the PLUS Scores that Experian provided to consumers and the various credit scores that lenders actually use.
“As a result, Experian’s credit scores in these instances presented an inaccurate picture of how lenders assessed consumer creditworthiness,” the CFPB said.
Additionally, the CFPB said that Experian also violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires a credit reporting company to provide a free credit report to consumers once every twelve months.
Until March 2014, consumers getting their annual report through Experian had to view Experian advertisements before they got to the report. This violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibition of such advertising tactics, the CFPB said.
As a result of the violations, the CFPB is ordering Experian to pay a $3 million civil money penalty to the Bureau’s Civil Penalty Fund.
Additionally, Experian is required to “truthfully represent the usefulness of credit scores it sells” and “must inform consumers about the nature of the scores it sells to consumers.”
Experian is also required to install an “effective” compliance management system, under which Experian “must develop and implement a plan to make sure its advertising practices relating to credit scores and on Internet webpages that consumers access through AnnualCreditReport.com comply with federal consumer laws and the terms of the CFPB’s consent order,” the CFPB said.
“Experian deceived consumers over how the credit scores it marketed and sold were used by lenders,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said. “Consumers deserve and should expect honest and accurate information about their credit scores, which are central to their financial lives.”
In a statement, an Experian spokesperson said that the company does not believe its practices were illegal, but chose to settle to move forward.
“While we do not believe our practices violated the law and did not admit to any of the allegations, in the interest of moving our business forward and staying focused on delivering an exceptional product and service experience to our clients and consumers, Experian has accepted the consent order,” Experian said in statement.
“The consent order addresses past products and marketing disclosures and does not reflect current marketing practices,” Experian continued. “Experian will execute all actions directed by the CFPB; except for limited changes, our current marketing practices are already compliant with the order.”
[Update: This article is updated with a statement from Experian.]