Lauren Kantor considers herself in the "financial know." She works in the banking industry, and pulls her credit report with the three major credit bureaus constantly.
"I often check the credit to see where the score is at and if there's anything new on the report that I should know about," she said.
But Kantor never pulled 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 find that absolutely crazy," said Kantor. "I had no idea."
Millions of people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies, which 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, and data collection services out there right now. And most of the time they don't actually find out about it until something negative happens," explained Kim Gough with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
"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 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, 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.
When we tried calling several to request an annual report, sometimes we got a maze of automated phone prompts. Once we were put on hold for 8 minutes.
"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 with the Consumer Data Trade Association.
The Consumer Data Industry Association warns 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.
Kantor, who has found and disputed errors on her credit reports, says she's now going to start requesting copies of her consumer reports.
"I should really know what kind of information is out there about me and if there are mistakes, I really need to get them corrected," she said.
For information on national consumer reporting agencies, click here.
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