Fact finding

Fact finding

Most consumers are familiar with large consumer reporting agencies such as Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, but most are unaware that there are others that provide information to businesses and employers. Known as specialty consumer reporting agencies, these organizations report anything from tenant and employment histories to insurance and check-writing histories.

It’s important for consumers to know about these agencies because the information they report helps lenders make decisions about whether to grant or deny apartments, credit cards, or loans. These agencies sell information to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that then use the information to evaluate consumers.

According to Claudia Bourne Farrell, a spokeswomen for the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), most consumers are unaware of specialty consumer reporting agencies unless they’ve been denied a particular service.

ChoicePoint (www.choicepoint.com), for example, is a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency that collects and reports information regarding insurance claims, employment, and tenant history. Many banks and credit institutions also rely on reporting agencies such as ChexSystems, which provides a consumer’s bank account and check-writing history. ChexSystems compiles information sent to it from financial institutions and can verify whether a consumer has ever had his or her checking account closed by a bank. MIB Group Inc. (www.mib.com), another specialty consumer reporting agency, reports information on a consumer’s individual life, health, disability, and long-term care insurances. If a person does not have a serious medical condition or has not applied for insurance independently, this type of file may not be available.

For most consumers, the availability of specialty consumer reports depends on financial activities and history. For example, if you’ve never rented an apartment, you will not have a tenant history, and if you haven’t applied for a certain type of self-paid medical insurance in the last five years, you may not have a medical insurance report.

Tena Friery is the research director at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer information and advocacy organization. She urges consumers to be aware of what’s in their reports but to remain realistic about obtaining copies of them. “We don’t recommend that someone sit down and spend an entire afternoon requesting every one of these reports because they probably won’t come up with anything,” she says.

If a creditor reports negative information (late, missed, partial payments, or any other default) to a specialty consumer reporting agency, The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act requires that creditor to notify the consumer no later than 30 days after the negative information is reported. Also under FACTA, a consumer can dispute inaccurate information directly with the creditor, in which case the creditor can’t report any more negative information about the consumer until it investigates the dispute.