People’s futures can rise and fall on what’s in their credit report so keeping a close eye on the contents should be important to all consumers.
Credit reports are used to decide who gets a loan, a credit card, a job, or even an apartment to rent, so few things are more crucial than having a credit report free of errors. Yet sometimes credit report errors are made, and the consequences can be devastating.
Recognizing the life-altering power of credit information, Congress adopted the Fair Credit Reporting Act in 1970 to protect consumers and regulate how credit information is used and disseminated. The law gives consumers the right to know what’s in their credit reports and free access to the scores that credit rating agencies assign them. It also requires that anyone who denies credit, insurance or employment because of what is on your credit report, tell you where they got the information and how to contact the issuer.
The nation three largest credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are required by law to do everything in their power to accurately gather and report consumer information. Together, they keep files on more than 200 million Americans and issue more than 3 billion reports a year.
Given the volume of information, it’s inevitable that errors occur. The FCRA gives consumers the means to detect inaccuracies in their reports and file complaints. It also requires reporting agencies to investigate and correct bogus information.
Mistakes are often clerical, but sometimes they’re the result of old information reported as current. In 2014, The New York Times reported the troubles of a Mississippi woman whose $40,000 second-mortgage debt was discharged through a bankruptcy filing in 2007. But four years later, the debt appeared on her report as unpaid, even though she had repeatedly tried to get the error removed. It took intervention from Mississippi’s attorney general to have her report corrected.
Cases like that are common. State attorneys general investigate FCRA complaints and many have consumer information on their web pages to let people know what their rights are and the steps to take if they uncover erroneous information.
Common violations of the FCRA include:
Not all FCRA actions are the result of errors or poorly maintained files. For example, in 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported about a data broker that agreed to pay $800,000 in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for allegations he illegally sold personal information to human resources, background and recruiting companies.
If you’re turned down for credit or have some other reason to suspect that a credit report might have erroneously damaged you, get the name of the national credit agency that provided the report. A landlord who turned you down for bad credit or a bank that denied you a credit card will tell you which agency issued the report.
Next, contact the agency and request a copy of the report. Keep in mind that if the report contains incorrect information, other agencies could be using the same information in their reports. The agency that provided the information must supply you with its report within 30 days of the denial for free. Otherwise, it can charge a fee to see a report.
If you find inaccurate or outdated information, notify the credit reporting agency in writing, explaining the error and demanding that it be immediately corrected. If the agency investigates and does nothing, and if you are still sure the report contains errors, contact the Federal Trade Commission or your state attorney general’s office nearest you.
It’s important to know your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act:
If your rights have been violated under the FCRA, you are entitled to seek actual or statutory damages, recover attorneys’ fees and court costs and request punitive damages.
NA, ND. Most Common Violations of the FCRA. Retrieved from: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/most-common-violations-the-fcra.html
NA, ND. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Retrieved from: http://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/report-basics/fair-credit-reporting-act-fcra/
Faughnder, R. (2012, June 13) Spokeo Settles FTC Allegation of Illegal Sale of Personal Data. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/13/business/la-fi-0613-spokeo-20120613
Morgenson, G. (2014, June 21) Held Captive by Flawed Credit Reports. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/22/business/held-captive-by-flawed-credit-reports.html?_r=0
NA, ND. A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Retrieved from: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0096-fair-credit-reporting-act.pdf