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The Tightening Net: Part One

JonKatz posted more than 13 years ago | from the outrunning-your-database dept.

Privacy 374

Rack up a debt or crime, no matter how minor or how many years ago, and you're tagged for life, sometimes unfairly, sometimes erroneously, in mushrooming, linked databases used by credit and collection agencies, banks, governments, insurers and employers. In recent months, I've been getting a ton of e-mail offering fresh horror stories from people -- many of them students -- snared by information-tracking programs disgorging past debts and misdemeanors to unaccountable, indiscriminate business entities. This is just a taste of how privacy (and dignity) are being eroded by technology. (Note: First of a two-part series.)

JD got a letter in the mail just before Christmas, telling him his student loan application had been denied because an independent credit search agency had uncovered a $120 debt he'd allegedly incurred four years ago -- when he would have been a teenager. The bank said it wasn't responsible for the credit information, and the collection agency that listed his debt wasn't responsible for the loan denial.

With his University of Minnesota tuition money held up, he couldn't register for classes, access his grades or eat at the cafeteria. When he called the bank loan officer (it took three days to reach her), she told him a computer credit agency in Arkansas had red-flagged his loan. All she could tell JD was that the debt had showed up in an online collection agency's files; she didn't know the details. "We don't really have anything to do with it," he remembers her telling him in an odd farewell. If the bank didn't have any responsibility, he wondered, who did?

When JD called the number for the credit firm listed on his loan rejection form, he got a recording: the firm didn't take telephone calls about credit information, supposedly for security reasons (but probably to evade enraged callers.)

The message instructed those people questioning their credit problems (JD had no debts, so far as he knew; he was too young at the time of the alleged problem to have credit cards) to write registered letters, then submit the overdue payments by mail. In the meantime, there was no way he could learn the details of the alleged delinquency, or even how to pay up.

JD wrote the letter -- his tuition payment was past due by this point, and desperation was setting in -- only to get a form saying he owed the $120 for music ordered by mail. He could challenge or appeal the debt, but that would take at least another 30 days, by which time, he'd be suspended, a "ghost" student, allowed to stay in his dorm and attend classes, but not to register or get grades.

I've gotten a number of e-mails like this in recent months, raising serious questions about growing databases, the way financial firms share personal information and use tracking software, and the impact these factors have on privacy, personal dignity and consumer's rights.

We've heard some public discussion about "identity theft," and about credit ratings damaged by thieves and crackers, but there may be an more widespread problem: privacy invasions of people who have minor legal or financial problems -- all now collected and instantly reported by credit and collection agencies using high-powered tracking software -- and institutions' often disproportionate responses. Sophisticated software and growing computer networks and databases mean that no transgressions of any sort are private, or truly past. Rack up a debt or commit a crime, no matter how minor or long ago, and you're tagged for years, perhaps for life.

Suddenly, we all seem to live at the mercy of credit-tracking companies. Companies and organizations -- especially those, like insurance firms, that rely on stats and formulas -- are no longer able to make sensible or humane judgements about what these agencies uncover. Instead, software seems to be making the calls on consumers' reliability and integrity.

For instance, JP56 at earthlink writes that she was denied a teaching job because of a drunk driving arrest that occurred a few weeks after she'd turned eighteen (she's now twenty-eight). She had gotten drunk at a high school graduation party, and drove afterward. Dumb behavior, for sure, but she says she isn't a regular drinker, has had no other violations, and that her penalty was a 60-day license suspension.

Dan was denied car insurance after he hit two deer in Pennsylvania within a six-month period. "Because of mild winters, there are tons of deer around," he wrote me. "I was doing a lot of driving -- I was working two jobs to pay for school -- late at night. One time a deer ran into the side of the car, another I hit it straight on. Then I moved to San Francisco. Three years later, I get a letter from my insurance company referring me to this credit tracking company. My insurance is denied, says the insurance company. It was years ago, and it wasn't my fault. But there wasn't anything I could do. I had to get into this state pool and pay three times the going rate. And I've never had a traffic ticket in my life."

Peter agreed to buy some vintage comic books from a phone-order firm on a monthly payment plan. He says he didn't realize how elaborate a procedure was required to stop getting the comics. He went off to college, not realizing the bills were still piling up (plus his family had moved), until he applied for a car loan and got turned down because a collection agency had red-flagged him in a computer database. No car. "First off, this comic place took advantage of kids like me. I did order the comics, but didn't understand the complexity of the arrangement. Then I moved and didn't get any more bills or comics. I had no idea this was building up, and no way of straightening it out that wouldn't cost a fortune and take months and months. Now my name is in some computer and I owe a lot of money. And the original company has changed hands a dozen times. Nobody there wants to hear about this. It's a nightmare."

AndyP wrote two months ago that he'd been arrested for vandalism after one Halloween mischief night when he was sixteen. An online tracking agency dug up the arrest -- even though it was a misdeanor offense, was supposed to be kept sealed, and had happened a decade earlier. "I was turned down because my company was working on a government project and we all needed a moderate security clearance. I never got it sorted out, because it was technically true. But jeez, it was a spray-painting incident. I guess in certain quarters, I'm unemployable for the rest of my life."

My e-mailers complain that even though appeals and application procedures exist, there are few checks on these agencies devoted to rummaging through people's pasts. Most of us have messed up a bit at one point or another, and now those incidents can be dredged up and used against us without much in the way of due process. Some are in blatant defiance of supposed federal consumer-protection laws, laws which seem porous, to say the least. Do people have the right to own the details of their own lives?

Students in particular have sent me a stream of stories like JD's, but the issue is getting much broader than student loans. Credit and collection companies run down past traffic tickets, immigration problems, child support payment histories, arrests and debts, all being fed into rapidly expanding databases as records are digitalized. Banks, insurers, employers and government agencies can hire these companies to run credit and security checks, then claim they have nothing to do with the resulting decisions. For the people trapped in this tightening net, it's a procedural nightmare.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers have the right to contact these companies and get some details of their supposed crimes or debts. But since almost any financial agency can enter information into these growing and increasingly-linked data banks, it can take weeks or months to figure out exactly what the alleged problems are.

You might be surprised to know what your credit "rights" are under the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act, especially considering how often they seem to be ignored. You can find the complete text of the FCRA 15 U.S.C. 1681-1681u at the Federal Trade Commission's web site. Among the protections provided to you by law:

  • You can dispute inaccurate information with the consumer reporting agency (CRA) involved. Anyone who uses information from a CRA to take action against you -- denying an application for credit, insurance or employment -- must give you the name, address and phone number of the CRA.
  • Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted, assuming you can prove it's inaccurate and the CRA agrees it's inaccurate, but the CRA is not required to remove accurate data from your file unless it is outdated.
  • You can dispute inaccurate items with the source of the information (if you can reach them).
  • Outdated information may not be reported. In most, but not all cases, a CRA may not report negative information that is more than seven years old; ten years for bankruptices. (My e-mail suggests this is wantonly ignored. Some institutions don't always have to say precisely why they took an action, and in many cases, you'll never know).
  • Your consent is required for reports that are provided to employers, or reports that contain medical information. And you may choose to exclude your name from CRA lists for unsolicted credit and insurance offers, assuming you know where the CRA is and what it's doing and can reach them.

(Note: Credit rights are also covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; thanks to reader William Lockwood for the reminder.)

It doesn't sound half bad, but trying reaching a CRA for yourself to test how easy it is or how responsive they are. Notice also that there are no restrictions on selling information or passing it along to agencies the CRA deems appropriate.

And where there are disputes, people often have no recourse but time-consuming and expensive legal action. Even then, there are no clear guidelines for resolving disputes. Simply because a consumer says he never incurred that debt, banks and other institutions aren't required to accept his word. There are no uniform national laws requiring credit companies to respond in a particular way. Although I have no hard statistics, many of the people e-mailing me said they paid these debts rather than fight or challenge them, simply because they couldn't afford not to and were afraid of a time-consuming process. "It's an unconscious kind of extortion," write Jan, a student from the University of Florida. "They don't threaten you, but they don't have to. How can you prove you didn't owe $100 bucks five years ago, and can you afford to have your loan held up in the meantime? Not me."

There's scant protection for people who might have been victims of theft or simple error, or who made a minor mistake earlier in their lives, or who need issues resolved quickly. Only perfect people, it appears, are safe.


Next: Technology is eroding some rights, as the reasons for collecting data on citizens grows. Is privacy worth keeping in the country that invented the idea? Some other countries think so.

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It's not technology; it's people! (5)

kroymen (242910) | more than 13 years ago | (#514145)

Dignity and privacy are not being eroded by technology. They're being eroded by people. The technology is simply "how" they're doing it. Take the technology away, and as long as the people are still determined to violate each other, they will find a way to do it.

Automated Bureaucracy. (3)

pb (1020) | more than 13 years ago | (#514146)

So you're describing a dysfunctional organization of disconnected entities that claim no responsibility for the system as a whole, and make no sense together...

...much like the latest Katz article. Is this deconstructionism? Katz, are you getting literate on us? :)

Seriously, though, I'm not surprised; this is the logical extension of bureaucracy and outsourcing, two horrible recent trends. Not only does everyone give you the runaround, but since they're all independent companies, they all claim no responsibility for their actions, and give you no customer service.

In fact, it sounds like there should be a niche market for people who know what the procedure is here, and help you cut through red tape for a fee. That would help a lot more than, say, home equity loans...
---
pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [ncsu.edu] .

The mere existence of information is not a problem (2)

AlephNot (177467) | more than 13 years ago | (#514147)

It seems to me as if Katz's ranting is misplaced. He argues about the evils of collected information, showing why the collection is a bad thing by showing what is done with the information. Can't information be used in good ways?

My point is that information isn't necessarily bad; what's bad is how it's put to use. Katz complaines about how the information is used; instead of ranting against the information itself, why not criticize those who misuse information?

You make it sound like a bad thing... (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514148)

I have two friends who work for collection agencies. You should hear the other side of the story, the millions of people who accumulate debt and try to run away from it.

Hhm... (1)

moz25 (262020) | more than 13 years ago | (#514149)

This reminds me, I have some overdue bills to pay... oops.

Moz.

Towards a zero-privacy society (2)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 13 years ago | (#514150)

Its not so much that the net is eroding privacy, but that it is making it easier for you to discover how little privacy you have had most of your life. Anyone born after 1970 certainly has had permanent computerized records all of their adult lives.

Ironically some of the people who seem to bitch the most about privacy seem to be the same ones listing every detail about themselves on their personal web page.

There's no way around it - you have no privacy, deal with it.

Confidence in "computers" (1)

SnowDog_2112 (23900) | more than 13 years ago | (#514151)

Part of the problem is the general confidence people have in the computer. "Well, my computer says so, so I can't think any more about the subject." It's funny to deal with someone who is in front of a computer and doesn't agree with what it's saying.

"Hmm. This can't be right. But the computer says we owe you $77, so we'll get that taken care of" (paraphrased quote, actually happened to me this week when disputing something with AT&T).

It works the other way, however, far more often. "The computer says you are denied; I don't know why. Sorry, that's all I can do." Add to this that you're dealing with "drones" most of the time who are not empowered to make actual decisions, and you see why it's such an uphill battle to fix a problem once it shows up in these databases.

The burden of proof in these situations is yours. All you can do is be vigilant with your own records, from now on....

Big Brother (2)

Adam Jenkins (121697) | more than 13 years ago | (#514152)

These stories are all sad and all, but it is part of the dual-edged sword of technology. If people want the convenience of getting a nice email telling them the new CD from ... is out, and you get a 10% discount because our records show you bought 10 CDs in the last 12 months, then those people are also subjected to the risk that the system will get screwed up, and you'll get emails about some other artist, or no discount. This is really just one tiny part of the larger problem, that technology is being introduced for the sake of it, without thought to the social and privacy implications. I mean if these credit checks worked perfectly and it was easy to find out who originally collected the information and say "but I paid that on the right date, here's my receipt" and get the loan etc. approved, are the credit checks still a bad thing? Are they a better of two evils as opposed to having to walk into a bank manager's office and conjure up paperwork of the last few years to prove you are a good credit risk?
--
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Death to all Tyrants (1)

gwjc (181552) | more than 13 years ago | (#514153)

I personally think the last scene in Fight Club said it best.. I mean who didn't love watching TRW, Equifax and Visa blow up good. Seriously I was stuck in the Kafkaesque nightmare of trying to clear a loan once which was being blocked because My wife and daughter allegedly sued me for $35,000 when I was 12 and I never paid... these idiots put the information in my file based on name only. The worst thing was after fighting them for a month to remove it. It re-appeared a year later from York who got it from Equifax and then gave it back to them.

Not News (4)

wiredog (43288) | more than 13 years ago | (#514154)

Hell, read Database Nation [oreilly.com] for a much better overview of these types of problems.

Loss of Personal freedom... (3)

dfenstrate (202098) | more than 13 years ago | (#514155)

Through coporate beuacracy and risk reduction. It seems to me nowadays that few entities like risk... most avoid it like the plauge, and those that don't charge a ridiculous interest rate.

Trouble is, I wonder how they can show that even accurate information ten years ago leads to a bad customer today. They seem to be going overboard, where the risk vs reward calculation is falling out of their favor.

Sure, if someone did something two or three years ago, they might not have learned much, and may be liable to do it again.... but I find it hard to believe that actions that haven't been repeated in the past ten years (like the would-be teachers drunk driving conviction) show any correlation to the likeliness of them doing it today.

In the meantime, my fellow young people, keep your nose clean. incidentally, does Katz get paid by the word?

It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (2)

szyzyg (7313) | more than 13 years ago | (#514156)

In the UK I had great credit, I had a credit card with a limit of 2000 quid (about 1/3 of my annual pay).

Now I moved to the US, earning 10 times as much and I have to *plead* with my bank to get a measily 700$ limit card.The cards are both Visa cards, you'd think that this web of knowledge would show me up as having a good record in the UK... But no they only want to use this extra research when it benefits them.

I don't see how this is a problem. (1)

byee (221083) | more than 13 years ago | (#514157)

The peopel and examples listed clearly showed that these people had indeed made a mistake in their past (drinking and driving, and being delinquint with BMG when he thought he was too young for it to matter)....

And Katz is saying that these people shouldn't be held reponsible for their actions, or that credit agencies and banks are somehow intruding on our privacy by finding this out? I can't beleive this!

Things like drunk driving will and should follow you around, you'll have to put it on all of your job applications, and employers and lenders can find out about it, and should be able to. Same with any sort of delinquency in the past. It will have an effect on the way that the banks will view you as a potential borrower whether or not you like it, it doesn't matter....

Iti s a matter of being responsible for one's own actions and not trying to hide under a "this is unfair" stance. I don't see the point of this artice.

In Perspective (3)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#514158)

Most kids going in to college have a "red flag" or two in their credit report. If you can get a parent to co-sign the loan, what you did or did not do with a CD-of-the-month club bill several years ago becomes meaningless.

As for this particular kid's problem... what the hell was he doing signing up for classes before his loans cleared? How would he have handled it if the loan was rejected for a legitimate reason?

A credit card of mine was stolen during a break-in once, and clearing the charges on the stolen card took me almost a year... so I know how frustrating the stituation can be, but a lot of people make things worse by actually relying on credit. Every financial advisor in the world will tell you the same thing: Live within your means. You should not carry an ongoing balance on your cards, and should only borrow long-term for a house, education, and maybe your car. As spiffy as the new Apple G4 may be, you should try to get along with your P133 Linux box unless you have the cash to buy something new.

If people did not overextend themselves on credit, debtor errors would be less of a personal tragedy, and more of a mere inconvenience.

Sounds horrible, but (1)

morie (227571) | more than 13 years ago | (#514159)

It looks like these are all US examples. I have not yet heard of these things in europe or my own country (the netherlands). Is it going on over here as well?

Furthermore I would like to congratulate Jon Katz by once again filling my screen top to beyond bottom. I would be happy to find a course in compact writing for you.

Flamebait (1)

nicholasperez (249531) | more than 13 years ago | (#514160)

This article is ridiculous, considering certain key passages. Most of these stories have some sort of very special circumstance, that makes that person the victim. Not to mention, he has no hard facts or statistics, just a bunch of e-mails. Now the last time I talked to my english professor (Ph. D), the basis of an argument must have a solid foundation and the source must be credible(The Structure of Argument, p6). I consider e-mails that probably left out important facts and figures to be a credible source. I deem this FLAMEBAIT. He is trying to stir people up and soon we will have all sorts of looney's posting about how large institutions like CRAs, the government, big business, are horribly out of control and severely lacking any checks and balances. Why do people let this man write? Why is he so biased?

___________
I don't care what it looks like, it WORKS doesn't it!?!

The Easy Answer (1)

Brew Bird (59050) | more than 13 years ago | (#514161)

The easist way to solve this is to not patronize companies that rely exclusivly on this hoax of a credit report value.
After being turned down for a car loan, I want to a smaller bank, explained my problem to them, and they approved me for a loan on the spot. And it was at a cheaper rate than the 'big bank' was planning on 'giving me' (Like they were doing me a favor! Arogant Bastards!)
Smaller institutions are more likely to actually READ your credit report, and give you a chance to explain why something is messed up. These places want your business. Let the big banks have thier procedures. It will end up costing them customers. At the rate things are going, they are going to start getting negative credit reports on people who have speeding tickets! When they stop writing loans, you can bet they will change thier tune!

Check ALL of your credit reports (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514162)

I am about to begin looking to buy a townhouse, and started doing some research, and all of the books point out that you should check your credit reports for mistakes (obviously). I filed to get copies from the 3 major companies (Trans Union Credit [tuc.com] , Experian [experian.com] , and Equifax [equifax.com] ) and discovered that 2 of the 3 had "minor" mistakes on them. One had an old drivers license number, and another had my last name mispelled AND had that I still owed $30 on a student loan (paid off 2 years ago, but the $30 would not have been due for probably another 5+ years) but it still was a mistake. Even these minor problems could possibly cause problems when applying for a mortgage. Anway, people should check their credit reports from ALL 3 of these major credit report agenceies to verify mistakes. I know that Mass residents are entitled to one free copy/year from each, as well as a few other states, but even if you are not, it is probably worth spending the $8/report on all three of these at least one time, and probably keep up every so often as well.

I have seen the worst of this... (1)

SupahVee (146778) | more than 13 years ago | (#514163)

I used to work for a mortgage/credit company and had to deal with the big three of credit agencies on a daily basis. In all honesty, they hold just as much power over people as the government, if not more. They can prevent you from getting jobs (yes, about half of employers will pull your credit during the hiring process) getting houses, cars, credit cards, loans, and money in general, which we all know, makes the world go around.

I personally have been 'blacklisted' for things that happened over 7 years previous, which they claim is the limit on credit reporting, I had to write multiple letters to get a house, even though I made 2-3x more than the loan officer even did.

It's a screwed up system, and in dire need of a trustbusting baseball bat to the head.

My Mysterious Car, House and Jewelry (5)

waldoj (8229) | more than 13 years ago | (#514164)

I'm completely unable to get a credit card, even the ones that you pay $500 for to get $500 in credit. I own a successful business, I have employees, I pay my vendors. I pay all of my monthly bills: telephone, health insurance, cable, bank loan, etc., etc. Yet I'm always turned down for credit, because I have no credit. A catch-22.

Out of curiousity, I ordered a copy of my credit report about a year ago. It reported that I still owe on a house that I bought when I was 12, a car when I was 14, and some rather-pricey jewelry that I got when I was 15. I must have been one hell of a precocious youth.

Of course, I called the credit agency. They told me that it was a "computer error," and removed all of those from my record. At least that part was easy. What I want to know is how many of those credit checks brought up the same result. And if this information has propagated to other databases.

Credit baffles me. I hate it.

-Waldo

It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either... (2)

szyzyg (7313) | more than 13 years ago | (#514165)

Bad information is all that's propagated - when I was living in the UK I had a VISA card with a 2000 pound limit, about 1/3 of my annoula pay. Now I move out to california all my credit dissapears, I had to plead with the company to get a debit card with a lousy 700$ limit - despite that fact that It's also a VISA card and my salary is 10 times what I was getting in my PhD. You'd think that VISA would be able to base my application on my UK history... but that doesn't count...

These databases only deal in bad news.

Why should we prove its inaccurate (1)

emf (68407) | more than 13 years ago | (#514166)

"Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted, assuming you can prove it's inaccurate and the CRA agrees it's inaccurate, but the CRA is not required to remove accurate data from your file unless it is outdated. "

Why should I have to prove its innaccurate? Shouldn't the company that put the information in there prove its accurate?

How would you prove something is inaccurate? (i.e. something in there that says you owe $ to some company you never heard of that is now out of business)

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (2)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 13 years ago | (#514167)

I moved from the US to the UK and It was awful, I had no credit or employment history. I got turned down by every bank on the High st for a checking accoung. (Except Lloyds, they wanted me to make an appointment before they turned me down).

Royal Bank of Scotland was the most pleasent, they spend a few minutes trying to figure out a way to get me an accound and explained exactly why they were not able to do so.


The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

Re:I don't see how this is a problem. (2)

rlk (1089) | more than 13 years ago | (#514168)

The peopel and examples listed clearly showed that these people had indeed made a mistake in their past (drinking and driving, and being delinquint with BMG when he thought he was too young for it to matter)....

And Katz is saying that these people shouldn't be held reponsible for their actions, or that credit agencies and banks are somehow intruding on our privacy by finding this out? I can't beleive this!

Being followed around for life by a minor misdeed from years ago is a bit too much; the punishment should fit the crime. At some point, one has paid one's debt to society and should be free to move on.

Guilty til proven innocent... (4)

sterno (16320) | more than 13 years ago | (#514169)

The biggest problem I see with this whole system is the built in assumption that the credit reporting agencies are correct. They are prone to error at rates that I don't recall exactly but I remember being disturbing. If you call up the credit agency to deal with a mistake, they should immediately remove details of the mistake from the report (merely listing that it's being contested), and then give the reporting agency a period of time to proove their claim. If they cannot proove that you did it, then it should be expunged permanently.

Another problem with the system is that there are three major credit reporting agencies. So, you may have a clean slate at one, but the other has red flags all over the place. So you might get your credit checked through one agency and discover everything is fine, but the same check through another agency could turn up problems. In theory the agencies share info but not always.

Personally I recommend that everybody make a point of getting a copy of their credit report on a routine basis. If there is a problem it is much better to see it early on rather than get an unpleasant surprise when you are trying to buy a house, a car, or an education. There's several services out there that offer credit monitoring services that will report problems and give you quarterly updates of your information.

---

Innocent until proven guilty? (1)

Choco-man (256940) | more than 13 years ago | (#514170)

one of the 'rights' of consumers as listed was "Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted, assuming you can prove it's inaccurate and the CRA agrees it's inaccurate, but the CRA is not required to remove accurate data from your file unless it is outdated."
why is it the consumers responsibility to prove the data is innacurate, especially when failure to do so amounts to the presumption of guilt? responsibility to prove money owed needs to lie with the creditor. what's to stop any creditor from just saying i owe then 100 dollars, then, and make me prove that i don't?
10 years ago i had my wallet and checkbook stolen. i cancelled all accounts w/in 2 hours, and in the following 3 days, 3 checks were written from my then cancelled account. verisign of course recieved information that i was passing bad checks. after presenting them with certified bank statements saying i was not responsible and a police report, they were still denying my checks, and this was before the days of cash cards - check, cash, or credit card were your only options. since i was in college, i didn't have much credit, so i had to rely on checks to get by. they had effectively taken away my only means of paying for a living for a number of months, reglardless of my efforts 'proving' that i was not responsible. finally it went to litagation - funny how quickly the issue was resolved when a summons appeared.

Re:The mere existence of information is not a prob (2)

LLatson (24205) | more than 13 years ago | (#514171)

This is a very important point that he didn't mention at all. The result of all these databases being joined together has been, at least topically, a great convenience to consumers. Credit reports can be had almost instantaneously, etc.

Whether we (personally) feel that this is an invasion of privacy doesn't matter. The consumer (as a whole) has accepted the tradeoff of convenience versus privacy.

I'd like to see some hard statistics (not anecdotal evidence from emails that Katz gets) about how often there are mistakes in credit files like this. I know about five years ago there was a big push to make it easier for consumers to get access and change their personal information.

It's a simple fact that when you have a system that supports several hundred million consumers, there are going to be errors. Should we throw the whole thing out and go back to doing everything with paper and pencil? I don't think anyone would want that.

LL

Re:Towards a zero-privacy society (1)

krb (15012) | more than 13 years ago | (#514172)

It's not the lack of privacy per se that's outrageous -- it's the way the information is used. I understand that anyone who's moderately determined can find out a great deal about me, and I've come to accept that as a trade off for all the positive uses of technology both for myself and society at large. The nasty part of this article is that it shows us just how our data gets used -- indiscriminantly and without any sense of relativity. This assumes you believe these folks, but I don't have touble there. Should a misdemeanor when you were 16 (and IIRC ALL your records should be sealed as a minor anyway) affect ANYTHING in your later life? Doesn't seem right to me. Certainly not when it denies you access to important things like loans and insurance. If you have kids, better tell them now -- don't litter, hon, someday you'll be denied a job for that.

It's out of hand and needs to be fixed. Either by taking back our privacy or finding ways to regulate how information is used (in a way which actually gives us power to effect change, unlike the current system) something's gotta be done.

Preaching to the choir, i guess, but it's a statement I felt i had to make.

-k

Re:It's not technology; it's people! (1)

jmahler (192217) | more than 13 years ago | (#514173)

AND because of technology, it's ridiculously easy to obtain a copy of one's very own credit report.

either go to a local credit bureau, look up freecreditreports.com, etc....

and if any of those nimrods listed up there would have done this, they would have seen exactly what was screwing them.

Responsibility (2)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 13 years ago | (#514174)

It's an issue of responsibility.

The Credit Reporting Agency("CRA") is blaming it on the reporter. The company that refuses a loan/job/rental blames it on the CRA, but not the particular item on the report. But, they ask for an explaination of everything.

A lawsuit for libel is impossible here. Not that you can show that it's libel, but how do you show damages? That you didn't get the loan/rental/job? They will argue that it's not just their report.

Credit Reporting (1)

AlgUSF (238240) | more than 13 years ago | (#514175)

I think that companies that falsely report debts should have to pay the victim of thier mistake. Luckily I haven't had any past credit problems, but I've heard reparing inaccuracies can be a pain. What really worries me is all of these Pre-approved credit card applications that get sent in the mail. I move a lot as a student, and I worry that whoever lives in an apartment that I just left will see all of the credit applications, and find out that I have good credit (USPS isn't really good at forwarding mail), and try to get a Credit Card in my name.

Also, I don't understand where past criminal activity such as misdemenors have anything to do with credit, or with future employment. I believe that employers should be able to find out about felonies, but if you got drunk when you were 19, and stupidly drove home, you shouldn't be banned from working at a nice job for the rest of your life...



Disclamer (1)

bob the Martian (113876) | more than 13 years ago | (#514176)

Past performance is no indication of future behaviour. I'll put that at the bottom of all my contracts...

Bob the Martian

blame game (1)

deran9ed (300694) | more than 13 years ago | (#514177)

Its all said and done before and not much is going to change. Instead of offering just horror stories with a quickie little link on who to contact, something most people will take a second look at if people were so concerned they would do much more about about such as mailing their local representative in office and complaining.

Sure we can waste our lives clicking away on slashdot stories something that can take a few minutes at time, but then many want to bitch about no one taking a stand when all it takes is a few minutes to send a quick email to congress and express your gripes. With enough concerns raised they will act on issues.

So your life has been slightly changed, well its your life so what are you going to do sit around an mope about it or take initiative and correct these issues. Credit companies are just companies a business just like any other and can be reported to places like the Better Business Beauru of other agencies. Contact them and have them remove your questioned info and go on with life. Unless laws are set in place it will continue, who will change those laws, people change those laws, and without any forseen problems by those in power to change them will leave them as is, bottom line.

Republican National Committee Spoof [antioffline.com]

Re:I don't see how this is a problem. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514178)

It's not a question of "punishment", it's a question of risk evaluation. A company that does not limit its risks will get ripped off more, and therefore need to charge their customers more. If you ripped off people in the path, you are more likely than others to rip them off, so they choose not to do business with you. "Fair" or "Unfair" has nothing to do with it.

You have rights (and options) (3)

budcub (92165) | more than 13 years ago | (#514179)

But all these things take time, and if you're waiting on a student loan to come in, you might not have it.

I used to work for a small consumer finance agency, where I'd review credit applications, look at credit bureau reports, and did telephone collections. Unless things have changed, and they either have for the case of student loans, these kids dont' know all their rights or options.

"They don't threaten you, but they don't have to. How can you prove you didn't owe $100 bucks five years ago, and can you afford to have your loan held up in the meantime? Not me."

You don't have to prove you didn't owe $100 five years ago, they should prove it. At the very least they need to provide a signed piece of paper (promissary note) saying "I owe you $xxx.xx" If they can't produce this, or some other evidence then you don't owe them anything. But in your case you probably don't have much time for all this fighting. All I can suggest is contact your state banking commission and file a complaint.

If you've ever been turned down for credit, you're entitled to a free credit report. Two credit reporting agencies are Equifax [equifax.com] and Experian [experian.com] Contact them, and get a copy of your report. Its kind of tricky to read if you've never seen one, but they include instructions and everyone should check their credit report once a year.

If something doesn't look right on your credit report, challenge it. The lending institution has to respond within a certain amount of time (30-45 days?), or it will be wiped out of your credit report. That is, unless the law about this has changed since I've worked in the collections field.

FCRA: you have rights. Use them. (2)

Sax Maniac (88550) | more than 13 years ago | (#514180)

Come on. You're responsible for looking out for yourself in this world. You have plenty of rights granted by the FCRA [ftc.gov] . Use them.

That means, you do go out and get a copy of your credit report [experian.com] every year, right? (Depending on which state you live, it might be even free.)

Make sure everything inside of it is what you expect. If not, call them up can fix it. Fix possible problems before they become real ones. You will need to do this before you buy a house, or car, so learn now while everything is still okay.

You won't believe what you see: my wife had credit charges from her mother, just because their names are similar (not even the same!). We had to call up and have these removed.

Additionally, you will see lots of bottom-feeding banks pinging your report for "pre-approved" offers. There were literally hundreds of credit checks by people that had no fucking business looking in there. Thankfully, you can call 1-888-5OPTOUT to stop this insanity. Do it now. They will mail you a form which you need to sign, but do it! Watch your "pre-approved" credit card snailmail spam drop to zero.

Information wants to be free (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514181)

That includes tracking information about every commercial and governmental interaction that you have in your entire life.

Moore's Law applies to everybody. It applies to Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union the same way it applies to .mp3 files and massive works of Free Software. It applies to your police and your insurance companies as much as it applies to your cool videogames.

If you want to get educated, here's a good place to start: http://www.creditscoring.com [creditscoring.com] .

PA & Deer (1)

finkployd (12902) | more than 13 years ago | (#514182)

Just a quick note from a PA resident regarding deer and cars. I don't believe there has ever been a time when I drove more than 20 miles in this state without seeing a struck deer on the side of the road somewhere (or several). This state is packed to the brim with these animals, and almost everyone I know has hit one at least once. To punish someone because of that is insane, blame the state and the anti-gun, anti-hunters (pretty much anit-everything) people who don't issue enough deer hunting licenses and who have turned hunting from a proud tradition into a hated, maligned activity. Now you have to deal with the over population of deer and the damage they cause.

Finkployd

Re:The mere existence of information is not a prob (2)

alecto (42429) | more than 13 years ago | (#514183)

This is sort of like test scores. The College Board (SAT) and ACT say that the test scores shouldn't be used as a number that acts as the sole qualifier or disqualifier for college admission, knowing full well that much of the time they are.

Credit bureaus play the same game with credit scores (which, incidentally, the FCRA does not require be disclosed to the consumer). They know that creditors use a cutoff score, but they maintain the pleasant fiction in their written documents that this isn't done, skirting the harsher government regulation they so richly deserve. Until regulations tighten, this wink-wink, nudge-nudge arrangement will only get worse.

Another drawback of easy access to these databases (1)

bongk (251028) | more than 13 years ago | (#514184)

I just found out that the lawyers will use these same resources to track down the birthfather of the baby we want to adopt. If they find him, which used to be much harder to do, he will be provided with lawyers by the state to help him fight the adoption.

Security clearances (1)

Vassily Overveight (211619) | more than 13 years ago | (#514185)

AndyP wrote two months ago that he'd been arrested for vandalism after one Halloween mischief night when he was sixteen. An online tracking agency dug up the arrest -- even though it was a misdeanor offense, was supposed to be kept sealed, and had happened a decade earlier. "I was turned down because my company was working on a government project and we all needed a moderate security clearance. I never got it sorted out, because it was technically true. But jeez, it was a spray-painting incident. I guess in certain quarters, I'm unemployable for the rest of my life."

Either Andy isn't telling the whole story, or the company didn't understand government security rules. Having an arrest on one's record, particularly as a juvenile, doesn't necessarily disqualify you for a clearance. I personally know of people who've received extremely high clearances who have arrest records. What the government wants to avoid is having anything that can be used to blackmail you. There was one case where a guy with a high clearance was having an affair and the goverment security people found out about it. They offered to let him keep the clearance if he'd tell his wife about it in their presence. He took the offer. Security clearances take a long time to process (up to a year) and the employee is typically given a provisional low-level clearance after a quick investigation so that they can start working. Perhaps turning up this minor crime in the run-thru made this impossible, in which case Andy'd have been sitting around for a year while they did the full investigation and final determination.

I agree that having derogatory information in a database for all eternity is a problem. Perhaps we ought to expunge everything after 10 years as is done with credit records.

That's right. (2)

pb (1020) | more than 13 years ago | (#514186)

It's called filing for bankruptcy.

Since we're talking about an actual debt here, and not just a "debt to society", the people in question should make a good-faith effort to pay that debt. Then they can start building credit.

I mean, really, what happens when you steal money normally? Of course we're not going to give you more money to steal if we can absolutely help it!
---
pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [ncsu.edu] .

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Soruk (225361) | more than 13 years ago | (#514187)

I've always found RBS to be very good... indeed my credit card is with them, as is my bank account.

Syzyg, why would you want a 2000 quid credit card if your income is a mere 6000 quid?

Re:Sounds horrible, but (1)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 13 years ago | (#514188)

The netherlands have an
institution called BKR (bureau krediet registratie). All your loans and payment behaviour are registered there. For mortgages and loans all banks will check your record there, and there can be a red flag.

If you have an alledged bad credit history, you'll find it difficult to get loans and mortgages and difficult to change the error. But luckily it is just a single place.

I've Had Problems Too (1)

flipper9 (109877) | more than 13 years ago | (#514189)

One credit card company decided to "write off" a debt of thousands of dollars to my name on my credit report. A thief had stolen "credit card checks" from my mailbox and had cashed them without any problems. When I found out that the police had captured her with one of my checks, I immediately called the credit card company to inform them of the issue. They said that everything would be taken care of and I was only responsible for up to $50.00. A few months later (and still today, 8 years after) they demanded that I pay the money, even though they knew the money was stolen. It's still on one of my credit reports and I can't get the Credit Reporting Agency to remove it.

The credit card companies don't care about their customers, they don't even want to prosecute credit card fraud. We don't have any rights as consumers. We are just that, consumers, not human begings!

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#514190)

I had the same problem (UK to US though). Even worse, since I'm not an immigrant, I didn't have a SSN (I discovered I could get one later, after getting erroneous information from the place that issues the SSN!) However, I found a letter from my employer explaining that I was on international assignment etc. worked for the bank. Fortunately, my employer also has a credit union...which is the only place I can get credit. Everyone else says "Well, your credit's good but we're not going to lend you money anyway because you're a filthy stinking rotten foreigner" The worst one was MBNA who phoned up saying I had been "pre-approved". That turned out to be utter Bravo-Sierra. After three or four snail-mail exchanges sending them bits of information so they could approve me, they turned me down using the filthy stinking rotten foreigner excuse, despite having good credit from paying back credit union loans and a good income.

Sigh....

Somebody put Jon out of our misery please (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514191)

I will volunteer to help support his family if someone will run him over withg a big truck. The answer to this problem is SOOOO SIMPLE. Take the credit analysis company to small claims court for the maximum and charge them with LIABLE. Claim that the company is damaging your reputation by claiming false debt. Make them appear in court or default for 5k, and when they do come to court you will get all the details or they will drop it. I know this works as I've done it twice. Got 5k and an apology once and no money and the alleged debt deleted by a judge the second time :)

People have Power (4)

beefjerky_com (302825) | more than 13 years ago | (#514192)

There are some poeple who could make it their mission to work against these credit agencies, some are hackers, some are more extreme.

One small thing everyone can do to create change is take those pre-paid envelopes that regularly come in junk snailmail, stuff them with blank forms or paper, and return them to the junk mailer.

This causes the junkmailer to pay twice for their junk, once to send it, and once to get it back. Plus all the time it takes for their staff to open and discard the blank returns. It not much more than a raised middle finger, but at least it is something, and it hits them where it hurts, the bottom line.

To the Moon!
http://www.beefjerky.com

www.endcorporateimperialismnow.com (2)

SubtleNuance (184325) | more than 13 years ago | (#514193)

Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted, assuming you can prove it's inaccurate and the CRA agrees it's inaccurate, but the CRA is not required to remove accurate data from your file unless it is outdated.

Nice Law, Guilty until proven innocent. Every person is a criminal if accused by some Corporate accuser - niiiiceeee.

Re: the $120 debt from the past (1)

Laplace (143876) | more than 13 years ago | (#514194)

I did the same thing once. I closed an account before a check cleared, and wound up with a $95 debt that sat for four years. One day, when I went to open a checking account in a new town I was red flagged.

Was I annoyed? You betcha. But I was more annoyed at never being given any notice of my debt over four years.

What did I do about it? Simple, I called the back, asked them to send me a statement, and paid it.

Will it follow me? Probably. Do I care? No

I pay my bills, am about to close out two credit cards and a car payment, and make good money. I'm looking at buying a house right now.

Yes, people have their credit trashed (I used to have terrible credit) but it isn't the end of the world. It's usually nothing that honest work can't take care of.

But maybe I'm not being reactonary enough.

Laplace

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (2)

Stormie (708) | more than 13 years ago | (#514195)

I moved from the US to the UK and It was awful, I had no credit or employment history. I got turned down by every bank on the High st for a checking accoung. (Except Lloyds, they wanted me to make an appointment before they turned me down).

The UK is a disaster for immigrants who hope to lead any sort of normal financial life. I know, I've recently moved here myself, and obviously my 9 years of adulthood with perfect credit history in Australia are worthless. I did eventually get a cheque account (with Barclays). Nobody else would give me one, or a debit card. As for a credit card - no way. They all demand your address history for the last 3 years, and if you haven't been in the UK that long - instant rejection.

So in a desperate attempt to drag this back on-topic, I'll say that these credit stories of Jon's are bad, but the credit checking agencies are just flat out arseholes, with or without a privacy-violating database.

Re:Why should we prove its inaccurate (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514196)

Nope, tis the other way around. YOU have to prove the company reporting the debt is in error. Which becomes especially frustating when you didn't buy anything from the company. Since you have nothing to prove you didn't create the debt with the company.

The improper use of technology (1)

jjr (6873) | more than 13 years ago | (#514197)

I hate when people tell tell me it is in the computer it must be right. People mis use technologly all the time. The mis use of technology is always a problem. The technology was always there to do this stuff was around years ago but it was only held for the big companies. Now anyone with a computer and some brians and balls can do it. That is the real problem.

Example of how it could (should?) be (2)

Captain_Chaos (103843) | more than 13 years ago | (#514198)

Here in the Netherlands (and more generally in the whole of Europe) these things are much beter controlled. There are very strict rules about what information a company is allowed to keep about you and what they are allowed to do with it. They are obligated to tell you on request what information they have about you and they must ask your permission to give the information to anyone else.

Also, there is exactly _one_ credit history agency in the Netherlands. They only know how much you owed and when, but not to whom or what for. Records of debts are destroyed after five years, so after five years there is no way anyone can know you ever had any debts unless you tell them about it.

Re:I don't see how this is a problem. (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#514199)

But the punishment should fit the crime! Is it just that you should be turned down for a certain type of job (possibly for life) because of a misdemeanour you made when you were 18?

Sure - people SHOULD be responsible for their actions (and it seems more and more people feel they shouldn't - witness silly lawsuits after accidents because people always feel "it's never my fault, it's someone elses fault") but there has to be limits. Being denied for a job ten or fifteen years after a minor misdemeanour you made as a teenager is hardly just. Most teenagers exhibit horrible judgement - it's the nature of being one. I'd wager that most people out of their teenage years who don't have a record for some kind of minor misdemeanour or offense do so only because they weren't caught.

Credit baffles me as well (3)

imadork (226897) | more than 13 years ago | (#514200)

My wife and I both have excellent credit records, we checked them (and fixed the minor errors) before we bought our house. We pull down decent salaries, as well.
Yet, when we went to get a car loan from our Credit Union, we were told we couldn't get the "A" rate because our credit wasn't good enough. Those "scores" that pop up on bankers' screens really, really baffle me. I asked for an explanation for why the score was what it was, and the standard reply was "You must have something bad in your report, but the Computer figures out your score and I have no clue how it does it." I knew that our reports were clean...
Morons! I would have pushed the issue and figured out exactly how that score got computed, but I shopped around and got a great rate from the dealer, and promptly forgot about the whole affair until now.

Lessons learned:

Get all your credit reports BEFORE getting loans on your own.
If that's not possible, definitely ask for more information if you get declined for a loan and get your report then!

If you know your credit is good, shop around!

Re:My Mysterious Car, House and Jewelry (2)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#514201)

I'll give you the same advice I would give a teenager. Go to Sears or Target and get one of their in-store credit cards. Use it occationally for stuff you would have bought from them anyway, and pay off the bill comepletely at the end of each month. Since you will not be carrying a balance, you won't get rocked with a lot of interest charges.

After a year or two of doing that, you will have established a history that shows you pay your credit bills, and getting a Visa or Discover card will be no problem.

Re:It's not technology; it's people! (2)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 13 years ago | (#514202)

This guy's got it right. It's never been a good idea to assume that you can keep your stupid actions secret ... just pick up a history book sometime, they're full of people's dumb mistakes. The only way to keep these things private is, unfortunately, to refrain from doing them.

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Lozzer (141543) | more than 13 years ago | (#514203)

Why do you feel you have a right to credit?

The !Joys of Financial Aid (2)

goliard (46585) | more than 13 years ago | (#514204)

As for this particular kid's problem... what the hell was he doing signing up for classes before his loans cleared? How would he have handled it if the loan was rejected for a legitimate reason?

It has been a long time since I was a student and I wasn't too clear on these things even back then, however: my impression is that situations like that are common, and forced by various deadlines -- usually the schools' deadlines, but for international students, it can be their visas. All sorts of wierd-ass catch-22 situations result from policies like "you must be a registered student to qualify (for this thing you need to register)".

I went to a private institution (not a state school, where they don't seem to give a rats ass) and I have heard many horror stories from the nice Financial Aid people about what various students have had to go through (generally in the context of the nice FinAid people trying desperately to rescue some kid's education). There are only several thousand ways to be fucked over (wrt paying tuition); a fluke credit report is only one of them, and not necessarily any less just than some of the other reasons you can be turned down for a loan or grant.

Your best strategy is always to keep on Being A Student to the extent you can, right up to the moment they throw you out. If you can't register officially, talk to the profs and sit in the classes anyways so that when/if the money clears up, you won't be behind in your studies. Stay on campus if at all possible -- going home (unless home is very nearby) makes it damn hard to walk into the FinAid office and fill out forms. Etc.

Most kids going in to college have a "red flag" or two in their credit report.

You're kidding right? Is that actually true? Most kids don't have credit, right? If you're under 18, you basically can't have credit in your name, because (unless an emancipated minor) your signature is legally worthless.

A Lack of Accountability (4)

Royster (16042) | more than 13 years ago | (#514205)

I was the victim of an inaccurate background check. Five years ago, I was hired for a job in NYC for which a background check was required. I had to give my notice to my old company before the check could be begun. I did so. Two weeks later, after my last day at my old company and as I was about to leave Chicago with my stuff packed up in my car, I got a phone call that there was a problem with the background check -- there was a bench warrent for my arrest for failure to appear to answer a drug charge. This was a Thursday and I was scheduled to begin work on Monday.

Now I've never been arrested and I've never failed to appear before a judge when summoned. The company was going to check into it further, but they wanted me to bring proof that there *wasn't* a warrant out for my address.

I called the local police who said "Come on down and we'll work it out." I wasn't stupid enough for that one. I called the office of the State's Attorney and asked them to look up the warrant. At first they said that they couldn't tell me anything. After explaining my story the guy said he shouldn't tell me this, but there were no warrents out for my arrest.

I felt more confident, but still had nothing to show my new employer. I went to the local police station and they took my ID and ran a warrant check. They said there were no warrants, but they couldn't give me anything in writing.

I left the next morning and called the company from the halfway point. They said that Equifax (a credit reporting company) had to send someone to the courthouse. Don't bother reporting for work on Monday.

I drove the rest of the way to New York not having a job. In the end it worked out alright. The warrant was for someone with the same name but different address and date of birth. I started the new job on Wednesday (and was paid for the two days that I didn't work while they were checking out the report.)

But it could have been much worse. Equifax sent me a copy of the report listing the warrant for my address, but it had disclaimers all over it that they are not responsible for the accuracy of the information. If I had lost that job because of a slanderous background check, would I have had any recourse?

another good scam... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514206)

My girlfriend received a bill from the state of Lousiana claiming that she owed them back income taxes. Since she's never worked there, that's a bit of a stretch. It was a small enough amount of money that we paid it rather than risking having them put it on a credit report.

stolen SS number? (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#514207)

These things are usually tracked by SS number.
Illegal aliens and identity shifters just pull
a number out of thin air (perhaps yours) for
their purposes.

Re:In Perspective (1)

sinbad (87955) | more than 13 years ago | (#514208)

There's only one problem with paying cash for everything... When the time comes to buy something on credit (car, house etc) you have no GOOD credit history either, and you can't get credit at all. I had to force my bank manager to look at my account before I could get a car loan. It's easier to get credit if you're in debt already!

Being foreign = being a non-entity (1)

Zoisite (250130) | more than 13 years ago | (#514209)

I can relate: I am in a similar case as yours (but went from France to the US two years ago). I'm on "the next best thing to a diplomatic visa" (yeah right) which translates into "you don't even count as a US resident so you can't have a SSN". My employer also has a credit union, but I have been fighting an uphill battle to higher my credit limit, and end up having to charge a lot of my expenses on a foreign credit card. Yippi.

The worse part is that companies keep on spamming me (phone, snail-mail, e-mail) with 'pre-approved' cards (read: pre-approved for anyone except me because without a SSN I don't _exist_). *grumble*

credit reports used for employment (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#514210)

Some employers now check your credit report
for employment. Now it is mainly to root out
thieves. but is the job market softens in a
recession, they may use any anomaly as an excuse
not to hire.

Re:It's not technology; it's people! (5)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 13 years ago | (#514211)

They're being eroded by people. The technology is simply "how" they're doing it.

It's not just a how - it's sometimes a why.

"We need your social security number. Our computer won't take a new record without it."

"Well, the computer says you owe $120. No, sir, our computers system doesn't have any bugs."

"Well, you seem like a good credit risk to me, but I'm afraid our computer program says we can't give you the loan."

Using computers often removes any opportunity for people to apply their own judgement, because the model of events that the software is based on is too limited.

Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Doctor Fishboy (120462) | more than 13 years ago | (#514212)

My experiences have been the same here in Arizona. I moved from Britain where I had a credit card Visa and a few thousand pound limit (no debts) but nobody wanted to give me a card here in the US.

I'd be happy with no credit card at all, but I travel a lot in hire cars and they won't accept any other payment other than credit card.

Like szyzyg, I went from graduate student (on 5000 pounds/year) to a postdoc with 5 times the salary - and guess what? No credit record sir, sorry we can't do that for yer, sir. What a completely fscked up system.... I managed to get a card through the University and I am building credit on that, but what a major irritation. It's also prevented me from getting a mobile phone as they want a 1000 dollars down. Thank God they just introduced the concept of 'Pay as you Go' phones into Tucson...

Ah well. At least the weather's nice.

Don't even have to screw up. (3)

rkent (73434) | more than 13 years ago | (#514213)

I don't think you even have to screw up to get lousy credit these days. In my previous apartment, I lived with my brother during his summer break and right before I moved away for a job. Because I had to leave before he did, I left the utilities on, but asked that the bills be forwarded to my new address.

Everything seems to have worked out fine, except that it inexplicably took over a month to get 3 of the bills forwarded, at which point some nasty letters had been sent. Consumers Energy sent my name to a collections agency (I'm still less than 2 months overdue, here), and the next time I applied for a credit card I got rejected for "excessive debt" and "failure to pay" some bills.

Excessive? The bill was $109. And I was making $48,000 per year at the time. AND the whole reason I didn't pay on time was because I was busy moving and the mail forwarded so slowly.

Re:Another drawback of easy access to these databa (1)

AlgUSF (238240) | more than 13 years ago | (#514214)

Another example of our tax dollars hard at work. The father doesn't probably never cared about the child, and where it is. Birthfathers, aren't necessarily the dad. Good luck in your adoption.

How to change? (1)

WuTangClanner (181082) | more than 13 years ago | (#514215)

Assuming the above is correct (which it sounds), and the credit reporting agencies are denying a basic right on which the country of the united states was founded on.. How can an average consumer go about getting it changed, if not for everybody then just for himself?

:)

Re:In Perspective (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#514216)

I didn't say you should never use credit cards. I said you should not carry a balance on them and live within your means. Paying off your credit card bill in full at the end of each month establishes good credit history just as well as carrying debt does, and saves you a lot of interest charges.

Tough Question: (3)

rho (6063) | more than 13 years ago | (#514217)

"[...] But jeez, it was a spray-painting incident. I guess in certain quarters, I'm unemployable for the rest of my life."

Not to sound like a complete shit, but what about those of us who DIDN'T vandalize somebody else's property?

If there are enough people who didn't do such a thing when they were young to pick from, why take even a minimal risk with somebody who did? I spent my teenage years quietly doing what I was supposed to do, obeying my parents, trying to work hard, and learning everything I could. Why SHOULDN'T I be preffered over somebody who spray painted "SuX0R my B4LLz" on the side of a building?

Now, the point that he was a minor and the record should have been sealed is a different matter. (of course, it could depend on the state as to whether the record is sealed or not, or to the amount of damage the vandalism caused) If that is the case, then the guy shouldn't have any problems, and should count himself lucky for that fact.

But to wave the "wild and crazy youth" flag and expect everybody to salute it is poor thinking. There are enough people who were mature enough at 16 to understand that other people's property is to be respected, not trashed. And they SHOULD be preffered over a reformed hooligan.

Course, that's just my opinion

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Doctor Fishboy (120462) | more than 13 years ago | (#514218)

I don't particularly WANT credit, but it is widely used as a metric of trust, not just by banks, but by an increasing number of corporations and businesses.

One personal example: I couldn't get a mobile phone because I had NO credit record - they assume NO credit == BAD credit.

car rental denials (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#514219)

Credit and driving record databases are now being
used to screen car rentals at some locations.
Since it costs a couple dollars each check,
you don't find out at reservation time, but at
a rental counter in an alien city. The rental
companies have decided its worth screwing a few
precent of their customers at savings of the
bad apples.

Driving record databases are sold by states mainly
for insurance company purposes. But now their is
a secondary market in car rental screening and
general credit screening.

He Lived Happily Ever After!! (1)

bahtama (252146) | more than 13 years ago | (#514220)

After all the hassle of bad credit, JD decided that college was not for him and instead opened a nice little whiskey company down in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

He soon became very rich by selling whiskey that had been mellowed through 10 feet of hard maple charcoal.

=-=-=-=-=
"Do you hear the Slashdotters sing,

Re:My Mysterious Car, House and Jewelry (1)

waldoj (8229) | more than 13 years ago | (#514221)

Yeah, my bank has told me the same thing. My problem is that I wouldn't buy things from Sears or Target. I'm not aware of having ever bought anything from either store. In fact, I don't really buy anything anywhere. Outpost.com pretty much does it for me.

I know, I know: start buying things from Sears. I will; it's good advice. :)

-Waldo

Re:In Perspective + credit card advice. (3)

kettch (40676) | more than 13 years ago | (#514222)

I don't have any credit cards yet, but one thing that i do with my ATM card and Debit card is to sign the back like your supposed too. I always leave enough room on that writing strip so that i can write "See Drivers License" (yes it can be done. you can fit two lines of writing on that strip) This makes it so that when you are in a store, when they check your signature, they will usually ask for your ID, and you can show them your picture.

While this doesn't help any for online transactions, it does help if your card gets stolen. Anyway most cards have a policy of non liability for fraudulent transactions.

Civil Disobedience (Or: Fucking 'em Good) (1)

jagapen (11417) | more than 13 years ago | (#514223)

Anybody know how a person or company gets into a position to add data to credit report databases? I can envision a few (thousand) credit agency executives, bank officials, powerful politicians, and et cetera, suddenly finding little nasties on their credit reports one day....

Re:It's not technology; it's people! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514224)

Then the blame is with the nimrods that designed such a system or with the nimrods that are operating the system for not realizing they don't have to use the computer. The world operated just fine before computers were invented and people were stupid then too.

Not Just Credit Agencies (1)

White Roses (211207) | more than 13 years ago | (#514225)

Here's another thing to think upon:

Recently, I applied for a home loan so that I could stop pissing my money into someone else's pocket. I had a copy of my credit report, and had shown it to my mortgage broker, who said it was one of the cleaner credit reports he'd seen (maybe he was blowing smoke up my arse, who knows). Never mind that I got this credit report for free because I was turned down for a credit card (the Dilbert card if you must know).

Here's the rub: my broker, thinking that I had pretty damn good credit, waited to check things out a final time before applying for the mortgage. Of course, to do this, one has to check with every agency that might have given me a loan in the past, etc. Turns out a federal agency in charge of student loans said that I had an outstanding, unpaid student loan of some largish amount. What?!? I starved in college. I never had any loan. So I called them up. Turns out that is was just my SS#. The name, birthdate, etc. attached to the loan didn't match any of my information. To prove it, I sent them copies of my passport, birth certificate, a letter from my current employer about yadda yadda. Sure, they got it cleared up. It was pretty cut and dried.

But . . .

Could someone please explain to me why a federal agency couldn't have checked my federal tax number and have seen that Joe Public, who went to (I kid you not) beauty school on a student loan, isn't me?

Just think. Anyone can make up a SS# to get a student loan. And no one will check.

Sure, I put a lot of personal information on my web page. Information I want you to know. But that does not include my tax numbers, my credit card numbers, or my early experimentation with drug culture and the resulting arrest 8 years ago! Funny, when I say it's my personal information, that phrase implies ownership. I guess it's not really true.

Credit Woes (1)

Canis Lupus (1922) | more than 13 years ago | (#514226)

No here is a beauty. And yes it is a college loan problem to boot.

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I was offered an RA to
continue on to get my graduate degree (master's program in this case).
Well, this offer came up late and I was ill prepared and uninformed
about how grad school worked. At my institution graduate students are
considered full-time if they are taking 13 credit hours per semester.
Unbelievable! What I did not release is that graduate student pad
this total by taking "thesis" hours. Of course, I assumed a rational
world and did not even realize there was minimum number of hours to
make the student loan people happy as well.

To make a long, painful story somewhat shorter, I was screwed. It was
too late to sign up for more hours and my student loans were coming
due. To this day I still live in an apartment on a dual professional
income because the whole credit situation is ridiculous. I keep
hoping that someone would have the intelligence to understand the
situation and the courage to do something about it!

(I occasionally think about the Bloom County episode where Steve
Dallas ended up in the hacker tank and had his credit threatened. I
had never before realized how scary that threat could really be.)

Re:Responsibility (2)

MikeTheYak (123496) | more than 13 years ago | (#514227)

Not that you can show that it's libel, but how do you show damages? That you didn't get the loan/rental/job? They will argue that it's not just their report.

Not that I think it's necessarily practical to take on major credit reporting agencies in this kind of suit, but you can show damages, and the fact that other people have it in their report does not free them from liability. Plaintiffs in racial discrimination suits use not getting a loan/rental/job as a source of damages. Moreover, by your reasoning, if three people kill one person, all three would never be found guilty because no single one of them was wholly responsible.

I think your biggest problem would be that you couldn't show libel. Libel requires that the other party be publishing information that the party knew to be false. Since they're taking the information in good faith, they don't have an immediate reason to be false. I am curious about what the law says they must do if you dispute the claims on the report, and the person who made the claim cannot confirm it.

Re:Tough Question: (1)

mlepovic (197411) | more than 13 years ago | (#514228)

The problem with this is that you end up creating a whole class of people who are probably perfectly capable of being productive yet cannot find work, get credit etc due to something they did a long long time ago. These people are probably more likely to commit more crimes since they cannot survive otherwise.

In the old days if you screwed up you could always move to a new town and reform your life without anyone knowing your reputation, now it is much more difficult. I am not sure what the solution to this problem is, or even if there is one in the information age, but I would much rather live in a society where past sins are forgiven after a certain period of time has passed.

Michelle

HUGE PROBLEM! (1)

medscaper (238068) | more than 13 years ago | (#514229)

Jesus, People. Be RESPONSIBLE for your actions. You can bet your ass that if I find out that my kid's babysitter had a dwi, 10 years ago or 50, I'd not let them drive with my kids. I'm sorry, but that person made a mistake, and I'd be more than willing to give them a chance, but...

Look at it like this...would you rather know information about who/what you are dealing with? Or leave it up to some arbitrary set of rules that guarantees privacy from revealing to interested parties? I have some bad credit trailing me around, and a FELONY ASSAULT from when I was 18. I can't vote, can't own a firearm, most likely can't teach or get any moderate security job, but it's MY OWN DAMNED FAULT. _I_ did it, and I've learned to live with it. People who made wiser choices with their youth and their credit DESERVE perks and better jobs and firearms, if they want them. I wouldn't agree that they're *better* than I am, but i would agree that they have shown a more responsible history than I.

Who among the people with clean credit histories and driving records and clean rap sheets is whining about this??

Technology allows us to know the truth about who we deal with and in whom we place our trust. If, sometimes, that truth isn't always accurate, and you REALLY care, fix it. It's possible. If not, than it's probably right on the money.

Mod that down (1)

brianvan (42539) | more than 13 years ago | (#514230)

I'll post a better one.

I was only supposed to copy one line. It copied the whole thing. Windows sux, I'm switching to Linux ;)

Re:I don't see how this is a problem. (2)

Archanagor (303653) | more than 13 years ago | (#514231)

I somewhat disagree:

A few years ago, I had a collection agent hounding me for a SprintPCS bill that was past due. (I did have an account with them, and it was current. The account they had in question was absolutely not mine.)

Even though I patently stated that the account was not mine, and the account I actually had was current and paid, and had been for the 6 months I had it. It did not matter to them. I eventually got it sorted out, but it took sending alot of paperwork back and fourth, and sending a notarized letter both to Sprint and the collection company to get it cleaned up. Thanfully, none of the reporting agents had it yet.

I strongly believe that things like this, left unchecked, can get very much out of control.

On mistakes made in the past as a teenager:

Why should this haunt you for the rest of your life? I understand accountability, and personal responsibility, but-- how is something you did when you were 18 and just out of highschool a reflection on the kind of person you are when you are almost 30? I certainly don't thing something you did 10 years ago should cost you your job when you have demonstrated that it was just simply youthful recklessness ...

---

Re:The !Joys of Financial Aid (1)

BrianH (13460) | more than 13 years ago | (#514232)

You're kidding right? Is that actually true? Most kids don't have credit, right? If you're under 18, you basically can't have credit in your name, because (unless an emancipated minor) your signature is legally worthless.

Sadly, no. As a teen, I signed up for one of those CD of the month deals, along with a couple magazines. When I turned 18 and moved away these were "forgotten"...until I applied for a car loan two years later.

My car loan was turned down because the CD club had turned me into collections, and one of the magazines had marked my account as delinquent. In addition, I worked 6 different jobs between 15 and 18 years old, so they'd marked my work history as "Unreliable". Did the fact that I was only a teenager, that I didn't have to work, that I was only trying to gain various types of experience, even weigh into it? Nope...once you get a job, your work history is fair game.

Re:It Doesn't Work The Other Way Either..... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#514233)

I lived in the U.S. as a child, and was given a social security number for tax reasons. I think it was required, but I wasn't a raving privacy nut back then or I wouldn't have taken one. The last four digits are a simple sequence.

There are apparently a range of SS numbers for aliens, and they are prime for abuse. My number has been used tens of thousands of times in the last couple of decades by various illegal immigrants, so much, the number is red-flagged just about everywhere. There were literally hundreds of simultaneous uses of the number in dozens of different states for about 10 years.

It is now impossible for me to ever live in the U.S.

I did try to move to the U.S. a few years ago for a job, and was turned down for everything I applied for, housing, bank account, car rental. You can't rent an apartment without a bank account, you can't have your employer just pay you in checks, by law its always direct deposit, and to cash a check without a bank account you lose 10%.

I eventually ended up at the SS administration office, and the examiner was stunned by the level of fraud committed over the years. He said I was extremely brave/foolish/naive to walk in to the SS office and prove I was the original owner of the number, there were possibly so many warrants out for my arrest it wasn't funny. But it wasn't even close to the worst he had seen, he said there were thousands of numbers like mine passed from one immigrant to another. Since a person can never be given a second SS number, I was basically screwed. The SS told me to write letters to every CRA in the U.S., and challenge all the bad data based on my SS number. Fat chance of that. I tried with one (TRW?), but they wanted me to provide proof for every single incident in my credit report, which numbered over 1000 items. Just proving I was out of the country for the entire period wasn't proof enough. I gave up after the third letter.

In the end, my inability to live in the U.S. despite a permanent green card cost me my job, and I'm happily back in Europe. But it was interesting to see how badly fucked up the U.S. system is when there are no privacy laws in place.

Katz has once again chosen an easy topic for generating tons of sympathy email :-)

the AC

Re:Credit baffles me as well (1)

rafial (4671) | more than 13 years ago | (#514234)

we were told we couldn't get the "A" rate because our credit wasn't good enough. Those "scores" that pop up on bankers' screens really, really baffle me.

Here's something that made my jaw drop when I learned it. Apparently the "scores" that at least some of the credit reporting agencies report are marked down if somebody else has recently pulled your credit report. That is the mere act of looking at your credit score by one potential lender reduces what the next one will see.

And alot of places are not even interested at looking at the actual contents of the report, they just check your score and they are done.

Re:In Perspective + credit card advice. (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#514235)

In my case, the stolen card had not even been activated yet. It was on my desk, still in the envelope it had arrived in. Some gas station honored it anyway, and I had to call the company to get the charge removed.

Due to sloppy record-keeping on their part, the charge re-appeared (with late fees) three times over the next several months.

Needless to say, that credit company no longer has my business.

I now belong to a credit union, and do all my banking, borrowing, and car buying through them... best decision I ever made.

Re:Security clearances (1)

B4Eddie (141439) | more than 13 years ago | (#514236)

My experience has been that they are more interested (the government, that is) in whether you lie about something, rather than wheter you actually did it. Your example of the guy having the affair is right on target.

If some one quit smoking pot, for example, and if he were honest about his past (in writing) he would have no trouble getting a Top Secret, even during the Reagan administration. Lie about past drug use, an arrest or a theft, though, and you're screwed. The problem comes when (like Linda Tripp) your arrest record is purged, and others know about it. The judge says you don't have to tell anybody, but the fact remains that it still happenned, and you need to be honest on those forms.

A Lack of Rule of Law (5)

Steve B (42864) | more than 13 years ago | (#514237)

Equifax sent me a copy of the report listing the warrant for my address, but it had disclaimers all over it that they are not responsible for the accuracy of the information. If I had lost that job because of a slanderous background check, would I have had any recourse?

And therein lies the problem -- according to the laws which are supposed to apply to everybody, a disclaimer is not a magic shield against a slander action. (That is, you can't just assert any old thing and CYA by inserting weasel words like "alleged".)

Apparently, credit agencies have gotten themselves a special loophole based on the rationalization that they'd otherwise be unable to risk reporting any negative information. This is nonsense -- they can buy liability insurance just like anyone else in a similarly exposed position, and have the cost thereof rise and fall with their error rate -- presented as a fig leaf to cover a political special favor.
/.

My credit problem (2)

brianvan (42539) | more than 13 years ago | (#514238)

One day, I had invented the thing which we will refer to as IT... the greatest revolution of our time, greater than the Internet, sliced bread, and Larry Ellison combined. So I took a stroll down to the local bank so I could get financing to create prototypes of IT, so I could pitch IT to filthy rich computer billionaires, so I could have a book written about IT, so I could get on the cover of Wired and Time Magazine, knocking off that loser boy Shawn Fanning...

But then I went down there and found out I once had an unlicensed copy of Windows 3.1 on my old 486 in the closet, and I owed Microsoft $350 or else I wouldn't get the loan to create IT.

The funny thing is, I installed Slackware on that box years ago!

Unfortunately, Microsoft themselves didn't remember me owing them $350... when I sent them the money, they thought it was for something else, and send me pictures back of a hot naked sweaty Steve Ballmer. As such I'm scarred for life, and all the proceeds from IT now must go toward my therapy.

Reportedly I'll be seeing the same shrink as that kook Jeff "Hemos" Bates.

Re:I don't see how this is a problem. (1)

Kotetsu (135021) | more than 13 years ago | (#514239)

Yeah, but the worst ones of the lot are the US government. I was once interviewed by 2 guys from the NIS (Naval Investgative Service) who were evaluating someone for a security clearance. He was a friend of mine, but he and his family moved away when we were 12, and I hadn't seen him since. They spent about 30 minutes asking me questions about his character and things like that. They seemed to understand that it was a long time ago and we were little kids, but the idea that the gov't might interview people who only knew you when you were 10 or something is really weird.

Re:In Perspective (1)

Siste Viator (303935) | more than 13 years ago | (#514240)

Many colleges require students to sign up before the loan clearing periods complete. Institutions typically grant fine free grace periods. if you do not register for classes before the loans clear the registration period for classes closes and you can not register. Education was one of the examples you gave as acceptable long term borrowing. Typically the loans can not be taken out all at once but applied for once a year. It's not overextension; denial of student loans is never a mere incovenience.

Theory and Sad Anecdote (1)

scotteparte (240046) | more than 13 years ago | (#514241)

Four years ago, I had an account with BayBank, which was a great student bank in Boston. When I went home for the summer, I filled out a change of address form so I would receive my account info, but the form was not processed and never got any statements. When I returned in the fall, I found that I had dipped into my "Reserve Credit", which was an excess $300 in your account as a cushion (how nice of them). Of course, at this point it was a late payment of about $150. So I went to BayBank to sort it out:

"Hi, I never got my statements at my new address, and I overdrew on my account. I'm paying it now. Will there be any reprecussions?"

"Well, it will show up as a late payment on your credit history."

"But it was your problem, not mine!"

"There's nothing I can do, but it will come off eventually."

"How long?"

"Oh, about 7 years."

I left feeling quite upset, but figured that one late payment couldn't hurt me that much. Over the next three years I was denied for every single credit check ever performed on me. I got one credit card, a $200 limit card, and only because they sent it to my parents' house. I couldn't believe that this had happened! But when I applied for an apartment lease, I learned the awful truth.

When BayBank did not receive my payment, they wrote it off as an unpaid loan. However, they never marked the loan as paid when I settled the account. So I had a defaulted loan on my credit history, which is the worst thing you can have besides bankruptcy. Moreover, BayBank had been bought by BankBoston had been bought by FleetBoston, so no one knows where this phantom loan is! After four frustrating days on the phone, I had discovered that no one would undo the damage, even if I paid off the "loan" again!

In the end, I retained a credit attorney to challenge the $150 loan and fix my credit. For over $1000.

So my theory is the following: credit in this country is purposely complex. The reason is that if you need to retain a lawyer to keep your credit history clean, then only the rich can afford to do so. The poor, on the other hand, must cope with bad credit. Because of this, they will pay higher rates on credit cards and loans, and find themselves in debt more frequently.

The credit system in the US is designed to keep the poor in a perpetual state of indentured servitude.

Phony SS Numbers (3)

Boiner (58993) | more than 13 years ago | (#514242)

I'm in the habit of making up random SS numbers when people ask for them -- so much easier than the old 'Do I *have* to supply it?' routine.

Anyway, I'm in the process of getting an AT&T cell, and they ask for the last 4 digits, which I promply made up. You know what? The sales droid told me "Sorry sir, that's not what I have here in the computer". WTF?

Of course, I went straight to the head-droid-in-charge and asked what the deal was. She told me that they bought my SS# from a credit agency, which didn't make me too pleased.

Anyway, when I told her that I made up SS numbers all the time, she got real upset. Told me I could screw up my credit reports, etc.

I was happy to remind her that it's a credit world, I don't need credit, I don't want credit, and I've got people lining up begging me to take it. The only thing I might screw up was the AT&T database, and that really didn't keep me up at night.

We went round & round for almost 10 minutes -- it was a *lot* of fun.

call att.tweek("garbage keys") //

Re:Tough Question: (2)

f5426 (144654) | more than 13 years ago | (#514243)

> There are enough people who were mature enough at 16 to understand that other people's property is to be respected, not trashed. And they SHOULD be preffered over a reformed hooligan.

> Course, that's just my opinion

I would be happy if it was just *your* opinion. If someone did stupid at age of 16, then paid its tribute to society, he should get out clean. Your way of thinking make me sick. Who are you ? A uber-citizen because you never get caught ?

You said:

"If there are enough people [...] to pick from, why take even a minimal risk [...]" ?

Statistically, black people are more likely to commit crimes in the US (or at least, they are more likely to get caught). I guess, it segregastion is good business practice after all...

Cheers,

--fred

Re:Why should we prove its inaccurate (1)

Fesh (112953) | more than 13 years ago | (#514244)

Because the costs incurred by them proving that you're in the clear cuts into their bottom line. Simple business decision.

Corporations lack consciences? Nah. That can't be it...


--Fesh

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