Consumer Reporting Agencies Follow Your Moves
By Jason Alderman
Fortunately, you do have recourse. Under federal law, you can request a copy of your report once a year from each agency, generally for free. You’re also entitled to a free copy whenever an “adverse action” is taken against you because of something in the report. (For example, if you’re turned down for a checking account.)
Unfortunately, there’s no central clearinghouse for these specialty agencies so you need to contact each individually. However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken some of the legwork out by compiling a list of the most commonly used agencies, along with instructions and contact information for ordering your reports. (Search “Specialty Consumer Agencies” at www.cfpb.gov.) Another great resource is the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s fact sheet on specialty reports at www.privacyrights.org.
Specialty consumer reporting agencies collect information about you from various sources and share it with creditors and other businesses, including:
- Public records of criminal and civil cases
- Credit history
- Bankruptcy filings
- Companies with which you have an existing or prior relationship
- Medical information
- Driving records
Typical inquiries might include:
- Check-writing history – for banks, credit unions and businesses that accept payments by check. They’ll look for things like bounced or returned checks and fraud.
- Medical conditions and prescription drug history – if you’re applying for an individual life, long-term care or disability insurance policy. (Note: Health insurers can’t deny coverage or charge higher premiums because of preexisting conditions.)
- Residential – landlords checking your tenant history, credit, criminal background, etc.
- Auto or homeowner/renter’s insurance – insurers will screen your records for things like traffic violations, claims and property losses.
- Payday lending – creditors investigating people who don’t use traditional financial services (banking, credit cards, etc.) might evaluate payday loans, check-cashing services, prepaid cards, etc.
- Utilities – If you’re trying to open a new utility, phone, cable or Internet account.
- Employment background – By law, employers must obtain your permission to run a background check.
Unfortunately, they’re generally not required to identify which company they’re using unless they decide not to hire you – it doesn’t hurt to ask ahead of time, though.
Note that when you dispute information in your reports, agencies are legally obligated to investigate and correct any inaccurate or outdated information. Also, they must give you an update on the status of your request to view your report. However, there is no time limit on when your request must be processed.
Bottom line: You might not realize there’s false or potentially damaging information being reported about you, so get in the habit of ordering specialty consumer reports along with your credit reports.