3 On Your Side: Consumer Data Agencies Are Watching You
By Jim Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (CB) — Think you’re credit and finance savvy? Did you know that agencies might be keeping tabs on your utility bill payments, the prescription drugs you buy and more, even if you’ve ever had a problem with your landlord?
It’s perfectly legal.
Lauren Kantor works in the banking industry and pulls her credit reports constantly.
“I often check the credit to see where the score is at, and if there’s anything new on the report that I should know about,” says Kantor.
But she’s never pulled a consumer report from a consumer reporting agency.
They’re companies that may be tracking your utility payment history, your insurance claim record, or know if you’ve ever violated a lease, bounced a check, or gotten a ticket.
“I find that absolutely crazy. I had no idea,” she says.
Millions of people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies that get information from court files, banks, and companies you have an account with.
“I don’t think most people realize there [are] so many different agencies and data collection services out there right now. And most of the time they don’t actually find out about it until something negative happens,” says Kim Gough, with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
“Something negative” means you may be turned down for bank accounts, insurance, jobs, apartments, even cable TV, but federal law says you have the right to request annual reports from these agencies, just like you do with the big three credit bureaus.
“Run a report on yourself, make sure that it’s accurate and if it’s not accurate, then take the steps necessary to correct the information that’s not accurate,” advises Gough.
But sometimes, that can be difficult. The FTC recently sued four agencies for not properly disclosing records and not following proper dispute procedures.
When we tried calling several to request a report, sometimes we got a maze of automated phone prompts.
Once we were put on hold for eight minutes.
“I know our members are always looking for improvements and ways to make sure that whether a consumer comes through a website, or calls on the phone, that it works for them,” says Stuart Pratt, with Consumer Data Industry Association.
The Consumer Data Industry Association says you may not have a record simply because you weren’t involved in a court case or haven’t had a rental, insurance, banking, or utility issue.
Lauren says she’s now going to start requesting copies of her consumer reports.
“I should really know what kind of information is out there about me, and if there are mistakes, I really need to get them corrected,” she says.
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