The Federal Trade Commission recently studied [PDF] the credit reports of 1,001 people and found that 21% of them contained "confirmed material error[s]." More than 5% of those errors negatively affected their credit score—that magic, secret number that determines how good of a debt specimen you are. Most of those who had errors had them corrected by Credit Reporting Agencies, which is good news, if you can actually get in touch with the people who arbitrarily determine whether you can rent a home, get a job, or for some sad souls, find love.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a report detailing the nightmare some people face when trying to correct those errors, and spoke with dispute agents working for credit agency Experian. Here's the partial transcript:
Steve Kroft: So, if somebody had a problem with their credit report, they would send the complaint, and it would end up with you? Many voices: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Steve Kroft: Did you consider yourself investigators? Many voices: No. Steve Kroft: Did you have any way to investigate these claims? Carolina Herrera: No, we didn't. You can't call the person. Steve Kroft: You can't pick up the phone and call them? Many voices: No. Steve Kroft: Did you have phones? Many voices: No. No. Steve Kroft: Could you email them? Many voices: No. Steve Kroft: Did you have the authority to say, "Wait a minute," after looking at somebody's file, and say that, you know, "This is a-- somebody made a mistake; this person doesn't owe this money"? Rodolfo Carrasco: We didn't have that power.
The report goes on to quote Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine saying that the credit agencies might be violating federal law by not doing enough to ensure that their reports are accurate.
Naturally, the Consumer Data Industry Association (let's call them Big Credit) disputed 60 Minutes' assertions, citing the show's "reputation for the sensational." Indeed, there is nothing sensational about three giant companies using proprietary mathematical formulas to create clandestine numbers about Americans that weren't directly available to the people they rated until 2001.
"Credit reports are materially accurate 98% of the time, and when they do contain mistakes, our members work to resolve them quickly and to the consumers' satisfaction 95% of the time," the head of Big Credit, Stuart Pratt said in a statement.
But the members of the FTC's study were able to identify errors in their credit scores and fight them with the help of government research assistants. Do you have a government assistant? (Whiskey purchased with unemployment insurance is not applicable.)
There's not much we can do besides stay vigilant. Get the free credit reports you're entitled to every 12 months by law here. Or, you know, start a new utopian society that trades only in shell money and flavored taco shells.