Consumer reporting agencies are keeping tabs on things like your utility bill, prescription drug purchases and home rental problems.
Even though Lauren Kantor considers herself in the financial know, she had know idea consumer reporting agencies were keeping tabs on so many things.
She works in the banking industry, and pulls her credit report with the three major credit bureaus constantly.
"I often check the credit to see where the score is at and if there's anything new on the report that I should know about," Kantor said.
Investigators found millions people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies. They get information from court files, banks, even companies you have an account with.
"I don't think most people realize there's so many different agencies," Kim Gough, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said. "And data collection services out there right now. And most of the time they don't actually find out about it until something negative happens."
Something negative means you may be turned down for bank accounts, insurance, jobs, apartments, even cable tv.
Under federal law, you have the right to request annual reports from these agencies, just like you do with the "big three" credit bureaus.
"Run a report on yourself," Gough said. "Make sure that it's accurate and if it's not accurate then take the steps necessary to correct the information that's, that's not accurate."
The FTC recently sued four nationwide consumer reporting agencies for not properly disclosing people's records and not following proper dispute procedures.
"I know our members are always looking for improvements," Stuart Pratt
Consumer Data Trade Association said. "And ways to make sure that whether a consumer comes through a web site, or calls on the phone that it works for them."
Consumer Data Industry Association warns sometimes you won't have a record with agencies—simply because you weren't involved in a court case or haven't had a rental, insurance, banking, or utility history or issue.
Specialized reporting not only protects businesses, but can help consumers who have made responsible choices.
"The data in these databases helps us as small business owners to manage risk," Pratt said. "And make good decisions and ultimately this is really the key opening the door for opportunity for consumers to get what they deserve because of their hard work, because of their good decisions."
Kantor, has found and disputed errors on her credit reports; she's now going to start requesting copies of her consumer reports.
"I should really know what kind of information is out there about me and if there are mistakes, I really need to get them corrected," Kantor said.
Companies must also give you a copy of your consumer report if the information has been used to deny your application.
If an agency tells you they don't have data on you, don't be alarmed, that may only mean no one reported negative information about you.
Click here to learn more about your rights as a consumer.
Click here to learn more about consumer reporting agencies.
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