WAFF 48 Investigates: Consumer reporting agencies - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Consumer reporting agencies


You've probably heard or read about credit reporting agencies and the ways you can get a free copy of your report. But what about a consumer report from a nationwide consumer reporting agency? 

They're companies that may be tracking your utility payment history, your insurance claim record or know if you've ever violated a lease, bounced a check or gotten a ticket.

"I'm sure some of the reporting agencies have some value," said Linda Kintz, who's visiting Alabama from Maine. "But I think you just have to move forward with a little bit of skepticism."

All the more reason to see what's in a report to see if something isn't the truth so you can dispute it. We found millions of people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies. They get information from court files, banks, even companies you have an account with. 

"I don't think most people realize there's so many different agencies and data collection services out there right now," said Kim Gough with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "And most of the time, they don't actually find out about it until something negative happens."

Something negative means you may be turned down for bank accounts, insurance, jobs, apartments, even cable tv but federal law says you have the right to request annual reports from these agencies, just like you do with the "big three" credit bureaus. The consumer financial protection bureau keeps a list of many of the biggest consumer agencies. 

"Run a report on yourself, make sure that it's accurate and if its not accurate then take the steps necessary to correct the information that's not accurate," said Gough. 

But our investigation reveals sometimes that can be difficult. The FTC recently sued four nationwide consumer reporting agencies for not properly disclosing people's records and not following proper dispute procedures. All four settled, paying penalties ranging from $100,000 to $3.5 million. I called four other agencies and didn't have any trouble getting through In one case, though, I had to really push to get exactly what I wanted.

"I know our members are always looking for improvements and ways to make sure that whether a consumer comes through a website, or calls on the phone that it works for them," said Stuart Pratt, CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association.

The CDIA warns that sometimes you won't have a record with agencies simply because you weren't involved in a court case or haven't had a rental, insurance, banking, or utility history or issue. They say specialized reporting not only protects businesses, but can help consumers who have made responsible choices.

"The data in these databases helps us as small business owners to manage risk and make good decisions, and ultimately this is really the key opening the door for opportunity for consumers to get what they deserve because of their hard work, because of their good decisions," said Pratt.

It's possible that some of the agencies might not have a report on you so there's no need to get one. Some of the agencies also will only offer a free report if someone's taken action against you. But I found quite a few that offer free reports, once a year. But as I found in one case, they may try to steer you towards one of the credit reporting agencies like Trans Union or Experian. Be persistent, and you'll get what you want. 

You can familiarize yourself with a list of consumer credit reporting agencies and the FTC's Fair Credit Reporting Act. Both links are PDF files.

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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    List of consumer reporting agencies (PDF) Fair Credit Reporting Act (PDF)More >>
    List of consumer reporting agencies (PDF) Fair Credit Reporting Act (PDF)More >>
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