Like millions of Americans, John decided he had to do something to protect himself in the wake of the massive data hack at credit bureau Equifax. So he clicked around the Internet trying to do the right thing, looking to sign up for a credit freeze or anything that might protect him from the hackers.
(John asked that he not be identifiable in this article.)
Instead, he believes, he was victimized again — this time by Trans Union. Now, he’s signed up for a $19.95-per-month service he didn’t want, and he’s been told he’ll have to wait for a refund.
As I wrote last week, Trans Union acted quickly after the Equifax announcement. The firm abruptly changed its landing page for credit freezes to make it an up-sell for Trans Union’s identity theft service, called TrueIdentity. Interstitial pages forced visitors — even those coming straight from a link at the Federal Trade Commission — to click through several layers to find the credit freeze page. During that time, Trans Union dissed freezes in chart form, telling visitors why its ID theft product and associated credit “lock” is a better.
Folks like me who tried to link people directly to that final credit freeze page were foiled; visitors were told the page was broken.
Since that story, Trans Union has improved the situation a bit. My links now work. If you Google Trans Union credit freeze, you can find upon the correct page, but as of this writing, it’s still been engineered to be confusing. Trans Union’s ID theft service page ranks higher — which under normal circumstances wouldn’t make sense. And the first link you’d think is the correct page, a file named “placecreditfreeze,” also includes the up-sell.
All those improvements came too late for John, who feels like he was misled.
“I thought I was just registering for their website only to find I had been charged $19.95. …I had zero knowledge I was signing up for a service,” he said in a comment on my initial story. “This is as low as it gets. On par with the Nigerian scammers.”
John told me he searched Google for “credit freeze Connecticut” and landed on a page that said “DON’T BE CAUGHT OFF-GUARD! Your credit can change anytime.” Assuming he was in the right place, he filled out the form.
Then, he was billed $19.95 for credit monitoring — and that would be a recurring charge, hitting his credit card monthly.
“At the time I thought I was just registering for their website to get a user id and password. Next I clicked on the big red link at the bottom of the page and went on to fill in the next page. There was no confirmation page or any mention of the price at all during the sign up process,” he said.
There was, according to the link John sent me, a blue banner running across the very bottom of the screen with white type inside. The type was printed in a font that is a fraction of the size of the type on the rest of the page. It read: “Your TransUnion Score & Credit Report are available as part of our subscription credit monitoring service. You will be billed at the low cost of only $19.95 per month.”
Having noticed that too late, John of course felt stupid. (“I did miss the small blue print which I see now mentions the $19.95.”) He shouldn’t. Federal law requires such terms to be “clear and conspicuous.” Someone else, I suspect, will decide if Trans Union’s presentation qualifies. But under the circumstances, consumers like John should be forgiven when they fall for such Gotchas.
Will he be? When John immediately called Trans Union, he was told the firm had no time to issue him a refund. At least not right away.
“I then called Trans Union and was told that they had realized earlier in the week that they had made if far too easy to sign up for this service. I was told that they are being inundated will calls like mine at the moment. Their office to cancel my subscription is only open on weekdays and they gave me the number to call,” said John.
It is understandable that Trans Union is overwhelmed with record inquiries in the aftermath of the Equifax hack, and one could even look sympathetically on the firm, as it did not create this problem. If it doesn’t have time to deal with millions of consumers right away, that makes sense. However, the firm did have time to Gotcha-up its credit freeze website, and it had time to take John’s money. You’d think it could find time to give it back.
I’ve asked Trans Union about John’s situation; I’ll update this story when the firm replies. Meanwhile, it had already told me this about the security freeze website up-sell.
“We’re encouraged to see a rise in consumers taking greater control of their own credit information by reviewing their credit report, enrolling in monitoring, placing freezes or choosing to lock their own credit information via our free service (True Identity). Advertising allows companies to provide free services to consumers. Many consumers like having the flexibility to lock and unlock their credit files online in real-time rather than dealing with PINs, fees and wait times that may be associated with a freeze under state law.”
Meanwhile, I want to ask you: Have you signed up for anything you regret in the aftermath of Equifax? Here’s my detailed “what to do” page. But if you have only a moment, here’s what you should do: Breathe. Don’t sign up for anything right now, including Equifax’s “have you been hacked?” site. Just wait another week or so. It won’t make you any less safe. If your Social Security number was compromised, that happened months ago, so another few days won’t hurt you. I do think free security freezes are coming in the wake of this incident, so I don’t want you to pay for anything you might get for free later.