"Especially in difficult economic times it is important that consumers have accurate information about their credit rating and their credit scores, but this type of advertising is way over the line," says consumer attorney David Woodward from the firm of Heins Mills & Olson in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Woodward has just filed a national class action on behalf of a plaintiff from San Diego against Consumerinfo.com, one of three Web sites owned by Experian, a credit information company that operates in about three dozen countries around the world. The suit calls Consumerinfo.com advertising "deceptive and misleading."
For a fee, Consumerinfo.com says it provides its customers with a credit score. The problem is that the score is not one used by lenders to evaluate a consumer's credit worthiness.
"They are advertising a credit score that is something that is used by lenders to measure credit worthiness, but they are not selling what they are advertising," says Woodward.
Many people will be expecting to get their FICO score, which is the definitive credit score used by lenders and is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the originators of the credit score. In actual fact, Consumerinfo.com provides clients with something called a PLUS score—a number not used by lenders to predict credit worthiness.
"I think many consumers read their advertisements and rightly conclude that what they are going to get is an actual credit score because that is what is being advertised," he adds.
Consumerinfo.com claims to have provided credit score information to millions of people.
The class-action suit seeks injunctive relief and alleges violations by the defendant of three California consumer protection statutes, and in two out of three of the alleged violations, the suit also seeks damages.
"What we are trying to do is protect the plaintiff, the public and the class members from this type of egregious deceptive advertising practice, so we want the defendants to stop misleading the public," says Woodward.
David Woodward is a former assistant attorney general and has extensive experience in enforcing laws against false advertising, deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud. Heins Mills & Olson focuses on consumer protection litigation, securities litigation and anti-trust litigation.