Consumer databases: who's tracking you?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Think you are credit and finance savvy?

41 Action News found even savvy consumers may have no idea reporting agencies might be keeping tabs on things like: if you pay your utility bill, the prescription drugs you purchase, if you've ever had a problem with your landlord and medical conditions you've listed on insurance applications.

So how do you know if you have a record?

Lauren Kantor works in the banking industry and pulls her credit report with the three major credit bureaus constantly.

"I often check to see where the score is at and if there's anything new on the report that I should know about," Kantor said.

But when asked if she'd ever pulled a consumer report from a nationwide consumer reporting agency, Kantor said no. These are 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 received a ticket.

"I find that absolutely crazy. I had no idea," Kantor said.

We found millions of people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies, which get information from court files, banks, even companies you whom you have an account.

Kim Gough is with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse , a non-profit consumer education and advocacy group.

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

If something negative is found, that 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 it's not accurate then take the steps necessary to correct the information that is not accurate," Gough said. 

The FTC recently sued four nationwide consumer reporting agencies for not properly disclosing people's records and not following proper dispute procedures.

Stuart Pratt with the Consumer Data Industry Association responded and said, "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."

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.

The agency said specialized reporting not only protects businesses, but can help consumers who have made responsible choices.

Pratt said, "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."

Kantor, who has found and disputed errors on her credit reports, said 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," Kantor said.

Companies must also give you a copy of your consumer report if the information has been used to deny your application. If an agency tells you they don't have data on you, don't be alarmed, that may only mean no one reported negative information about you.

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