Beware the Credit Reports You've Never Heard Of

Photograph by Mike Kemp/Getty Images

You probably know that Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian are consumer reporting agencies that track your credit history. But do you know about Milliman IntelliScript, First Advantage, and Infocubic? What about Innovis, L2C, and DataX? I can keep going, or you can take a look at the list compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of 40 different reporting agencies (pdf) that track your behavior.

Each of the reporting agencies compiles different bits of data, such as whether you bounced a check, made your rent payments on time, collected insurance claims, or have taken prescription drugs. They sell that data to different companies that want to size you up—an insurance company deciding how high to set your premiums, a health insurer looking to understand if you have preexisting conditions, a potential employer trying to determine if you’re trustworthy, or a bank calculating where to set your credit limit.

The CFPB released the list on Thursday as part of its warning to remind “specialty consumer reporting companies” that, as with the big three credit bureaus, they must follow consumer protection laws. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, national reporting bureaus must give people easy access to a free copy of their report once a year and have a formal process to let consumers dispute the potential errors in a report. In a review, the CFPB “identified several problems, such as companies that are not listing toll-free numbers, and companies that have toll-free numbers but do not make it easy for consumers to request reports.”

As I reported this summer, credit bureaus and lenders are looking for new algorithms and data sources to find profitable customers as they start lending after the Great Recession. “Every bank is looking for more and more ways to understand what is a client’s payment behavior,” David Bowen, senior vice president at Cleveland-based KeyBank, told me at the time.

“It is really challenging for consumers because there are so many different companies,” says Persis Yu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. She says it’s hard for consumers to be proactive and keep tabs on all of the different companies that might track them. Take the background checks used by nine out of 10 employers. Yu has found they are “riddled with errors,” so it’s particularly important for job seekers to check for accuracy. She says if you’re about to go on the job market, “it would be worth it to check the really big [agencies], but it doesn’t guarantee that you will check the one that the employer will choose to use.”

The CFPB’s list represents one-tenth of the approximately 400 consumer reporting agencies in the U.S. It’s pretty much impossible to know every company that’s tracking you, though in some cases you have a right to know if the data are used against you. For example, if an employer says a background check is the reason they won’t give you a job, you are entitled to see—and challenge—the report they used. The bureau also reminds consumers that they have the right to request and fix errors in the reports even before they’re used by companies. I’d better stop this post now, so you can hop to it.

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