Friday, June 18, 2004

Survey: Credit reports flawed

By Marcy Gordon
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - One in four credit reports has errors that are serious enough to disqualify consumers from buying a home, opening a bank account or getting a job - and an overwhelming majority contain mistakes of some kind, according to a survey released Thursday by a consumer group.

Serious errors found in the credit profiles maintained on some 90 percent of American adults include consumer accounts incorrectly listed as delinquent or in collection or that actually belong to another person, said the report by Public Interest Research Group.

Of the 197 credit reports collected from people in 30 states, 79 percent had some sort of error, while 54 percent included personal identifying information that was misspelled, outdated, belonged to someone else or was otherwise incorrect. Thirty percent contained credit accounts that consumers had closed but that remained listed as open. Nearly 8 percent were missing major credit, loan or mortgage accounts that indicate creditworthiness, the group said.

The three largest credit-reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian and Trans Union - collect information from banks, mortgage companies and other creditors and from public records related to lawsuits, bankruptcy filings and tax liens. They sell the consumer reports to credit grantors as well as landlords, employers, insurance companies and utilities.

In conducting the survey, the research group "unilaterally decided what is a serious error," said Norm Magnuson of the Consumer Data Industry Association.

Spokesmen for Experian and Trans Union didn't return telephone calls. Equifax spokesmen couldn't be reached.

The Public Interest Research Group and others advise consumers to examine their reports once a year.

Under federal law, consumers are entitled to a free credit report after credit denial, if they believe they have been a victim of identity theft, if they receive social welfare benefits or if they are unemployed. Residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont can request a free credit report annually.

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