Credit Reporting Agency Sent Credit Report to Wrong People!

“I have a very big problem that I need some help with. On 9/01/05, I called Equifax to dispute some information on my credit report that I got online. At that time, I gave them my new address which I had lived at for only a few months. I was told to wait 45 days for a reply letter and a corrected report. On 10/21/05, I had still not received my letter and I called the company to follow up. The agent at that time told me it had been sent out, but that they would send another one. I still did not receive it on 11/9/05, and called the company again.

Only then did I find out that they had sent the credit report twice to an address I have not lived at for over 3 years. They told me I needed to send a utility bill to confirm the address. I did so, and with it I faxed a letter detailing my problem and asking a supervisor to call me by the end of the week. I have yet to get a response. Additionally, on the report I had printed out, the company had my previous 2 addresses since the address they sent the report to, and both addresses would have had my mail forwarded to my current address (one of the addresses was temporary housing while I waited for my new house to be completed). It has the reporting date of the address they sent the report to as 8/2002, and the reporting dates of the more current addresses as 3/2005 and 6/2005, but those addresses are listed as former addresses.

The company had handed my credit report to total strangers, and has not even responded to me. The agent on the phone the second time I called should have confirmed my address with me, since I never received the report, but she did not. The agent I spoke to on the phone on 10/9/05 didn’t seem concerned at all with the fact that they had given my credit report away, putting me at risk for identity theft.

I have kept documentation of all of this, although I cannot prove that I gave the first agent my new address. I was keeping a list of items that needed to be corrected and crossed the items out as I spoke to her, and “new address” is crossed out. Is there anything I can do to make this company step up to what they have done to me, or at least make them communicate? Are there any laws pertaining to Credit Reporting Agencies having a responsibility to handle credit reports carefully?”

What you describe is, unfortunately, about par for the course when dealing with credit reporting agencies. The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency which regulates the credit bureaus, has been suing most of the bureaus constantly for decades because of the chronic problems of negligence, unfair practices, and other problems.

The credit bureaus are renowned for being complete idiots when it comes to fixing their problems. The best example of this comes from former FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle. When Commissioner Swindle was first appointed to the FTC, he and his wife came to Washington DC and sought to buy a house. But when the bank checked Swindle’s credit, it couldn’t give him the loan. As it turns out, his credit report was filled with errors. But after weeks of calling, writing, and faxing his proof, the credit bureaus still wouldn’t correct his credit report and the Swindles were going to lose their new house. Eventually, Commissioner Swindle had to call in the chief lobbyist for the credit bureau in question and remind him that the FTC was suing his company for exactly this kind of lunacy. Even then it took a few more weeks, but finally the Commissioner’s credit report was fixed and the home loan went through.

If an FTC commissioner had that much trouble, the average person hardly stands a chance.

With that said, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law that guarantees you certain rights against the credit reporting services. Among those rights, the credit bureaus are supposed to be careful about who they send your credit report to. For more information, you should visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/credit/index.html and click on “Summary of Rights – Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

First, the risk associated with the loss or interception of a paper copy of your credit report is something that most of the credit bureaus took into consideration when they designed the printed reports. In many cases, for example, only the last few digits of account numbers or other critical bits of information are actually shown on the printed copy. This practice can help to reduce the risk that a criminal could use a copy of your credit report to cause trouble.

It doesn’t completely eliminate the risk, however, therefore you may want to consider calling all three of the major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax — and request that they place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit report. That will flag your credit record with a notice that any new credit requests should be carefully scrutinized to ensure their legitimacy. That will reduce the chances of — but won’t necessarily prevent — anyone from stealing your identity by using the data in the report. It may also cause you to jump through extra hoops next time you want to get a loan or open a credit account. But the added scrutiny may be worth the tradeoff.

As for making Equifax take responsibility for what they’ve done to you, you have a couple of options. First, you may want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. On the FTC webpage I indicated earlier, there’s a link for “File a Complaint”. Unfortunately, the FTC does not actually resolve individual complaints, but by adding your complaint to the pile, the FTC has more ammunition for the next time they have to sue Equifax… which you can bet they will sooner or later!

Your second option is to find an attorney who can threaten to sue Equifax for violations of the FCRA. If your attorney can construct a sufficiently compelling argument, you might get them to fix any problems with your credit report without actually having to go to court. But don’t get your hopes up… if one of the FTC Commissioners himself couldn’t get them to fix things, don’t expect miracles.

Finally, you’re to be commended for staying on top of your credit reports. With identity theft rampant, vigilance is your last line of defense against disaster.

Recommended reading (click on the picture for details):
Internet Privacy for Dummies

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