The federal government sues TransUnion for deceptive marketing that could lead consumers to pay for something that’s free – your credit reports.

TransUnion is one of the “Big 3” credit bureaus that compile your credit history – which has a big impact on your credit score. This week, the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau sued TransUnion for “deceitful digital dark patterns to profit from customers.”

Those dark patterns included an unnecessary requirement: Enter your credit card number if you want to access your credit report. Since federal law requires TransUnion (and its competitors Equifax and Experian) to offer those for free, there’s no reason to enter your credit card – unless you wanted to pressure those customers to buy something.

TransUnion then “integrated deceptive buttons” into its website. Clicking on those buttons makes you believe you’re getting a free report.

“In reality, clicking this button signed customers up for recurring monthly charges using the credit card information they had provided,” the CFPB said in a statement.

If you realized your mistake and wanted to cancel those monthly charges, that wasn’t easy.

“For consumers looking for a way out of their subscriptions, TransUnion not only failed to offer a simple mechanism for cancellation, it actively made it arduous for consumers to cancel through clever uses of font and color on its website,” the CFPB said.

Concluded CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, “TransUnion is an out-of-control repeat offender that believes it is above the law. I am concerned that TransUnion’s leadership is either unwilling or incapable of operating its businesses lawfully.”

Those harsh words come after years of negotiation with TransUnion, which followed more than 150,000 customer complaints. Back in 2017, the CFPB settled similar charges with TransUnion – and the company agreed to pay nearly $14 million in restitution to its customers. In May 2019, however, the CFPB found the company was “violating multiple requirements” of the settlement. In June 2020,  the CFPB says it “informed TransUnion that it was still violating the order and engaged in additional violations of law.”

In a statement of its own, TransUnion calls the CFPB’s lawsuit “meritless.”

“We have been in compliance with our obligations, and we remain in compliance,” TransUnion says. The company then accuses the CFPB of “unrealistic and unworkable demands,” although it doesn’t specify what those are.

When asked his opinion about the lawsuit, chairman Howard Dvorkin said whatever happens, it won’t happen soon.

“The wheels of justice never spin very fast,” Dvorkin says. “From a customer perspective, the settlement was the best way to go, because it returned money to hardworking Americans and stopped any deceptive practices. But if TransUnion truly ignored the terms of that settlement, then the CFPB really has no other option.”

In the meantime, Dvorkin says the best defense is…an ever better defense.

“Remember, you can access your credit reports free each year from each of those Big 3 credit bureaus,” Dvorkin says. “Never, ever be persuaded to spend a dime on any other service being offered to you. They’re almost always unnecessary. If you need them, better to get a recommendation from a trained counselor like the ones you’d speak with by calling”

If you want to know more about how to get your free credit report, check out our step-by-step guide.

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About the Author

Michael Koretzky

Michael Koretzky

Michael Koretzky has been editor of since 2013 and a PFE-certified debt management professional since 2015. Before that, he was editor at Money Talks News, one of the nation’s largest independent personal finance websites. Before that, he was a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and publisher. He’s been a freelancer for The New York Times, copyeditor for the National Enquirer, and managing editor for the world’s largest jazz magazine. He started and sold a news weekly to the Tribune Company and was a newspaper reporter at the Athens Banner Herald, Florida Times-Union, and South Florida Sun Sentinel. In his free time, Koretzky does…more journalism. He served for a decade on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and oldest journalism organization, and he’s currently president of the Florida chapter. He served on the Steering Committee for the Student Press Law Center and is still serving on the Advisory Committee of Associated Collegiate Press, the nation’s largest college media organization. “In my itinerant career, I’ve covered a Democratic and Republican national convention, a couple of Space Shuttle launches, and music festivals in Istanbul and the Cayman Islands,” Koretzky says. He notes they all had one thing in common: “At some level, they were all about money. So I decided to cut out the middleman and just write about money for a living.”

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