Credit reports are becoming a major controlling process over the lives of millions of Americans. This is especially true when these reports contain inaccuracies, are used improperly or are employed in major invasions of privacy along with losses of employment, credit and insurance opportunities.
There are three major credit bureaus in the United States. One of the biggest ones, TRW, with nearly one hundred million credit files in its domain, states that its policy is never to change information that the subscriber reports as correct, regardless of any “proof” provided by the consumer.
Commercial users of credit reports are quite aware of this controlling process. Many an aggrieved consumer has withheld protesting due to the fear of damaging his or her credit. That worry is not self-generated. Many a creditor or a seller who doesn’t want any consumer lip over shoddiness or other fraud suggests that consumer silence is the better part of a credit rating.
Yes, there is a twenty-year-old Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to protect shoppers by letting them see their reports if they are turned down for credit, insurance or a job on that basis. Otherwise people have to pay about $15 or more for their credit report to determine any outdated or false information.
According to Bankcard Holders of America Director, Elgie Holstein, “one‑ third of consumers who see their credit reports dispute their accuracy or completeness.” He, along with other consumer advocates such as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, are pressing Congress to strengthen the FCRA:
Holstein believes the first reform is to provide consumers with free credit reports as “the single most effective way to ensure both their accuracy and their confidentiality… consumers will be able to blow the whistle when they find harmful inaccuracies or when someone looks at their report who isn’t supposed to.”
Other recommendations to toughen the federal law are: (1) “require credit bureaus to obtain consumers’ permission whenever they provide their credit reports to lenders, employers, and others;” (2) require credit bureaus to consider evidence supplied by consumers who dispute inaccuracies, currently, the bureaus can, and often do, ignore proof that consumers have paid a bill on time; (3) require lenders to share with consumers copies of their credit reports received from the bureaus. Lenders often refuse to share this information with consumers;
(4) require subscribers — banks, stores and others who report to credit bureaus — to meet minimum standards of accuracy and diligence in their financial record-keeping and credit reporting; (5) disclose to consumers the details of their secret credit ‘scores’ which credit bureaus calculate and sell to their subscribers.
If you want an insider’s view of the factors lenders and employers use in making judgments about your creditworthiness, you can obtain a Credit Secrets Manual for $3.00 from BHA, 560 Herndon Pkwy, Suite 120, Herndon, Virginia 22070.
IT you have been mistreated by businesses that use credit reports or by the credit bureaus themselves, be sure to write to your member of Congress. Perhaps next year, they will be voting on strengthening the FCRA and they can use all the cases they receive from the folks back home.
Beyond that, if you have really been harmed repeatedly by a credit bureau or user of your credit report, consider legal action. Earlier this month, a Wyoming jury awarded Paul K. Jacques $290,000 in damages (mostly punitive damages) after he demonstrated that TRW sprinkled his credit report with information that belonged to his father. He was turned down for a car loan. The jury found the company guilty of “willful” violations. There still is a civil jury around to humble a wayward corporation. TRW will appeal.