Have you have ever applied for credit, goods, benefits or services? If so, you are probably familiar with the consumer reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Based upon creditworthiness and the likelihood of repayment, creditors make a determination whether to extend you credit and on what repayment terms.
What many Americans are unaware of is that “other” consumer reports exist on them. Known as “specialty credit reports” or “specialty consumer reports,” these files contain user-specific information tailored toward a particular industry.
Specialty credit reports are designed to meet the specific needs of the reporting agencies’ clientele. They are utilized by employers, insurance companies, landlords, banks, etc., to predict how likely you are to have problems at work, get into a car accident, damage your apartment or bounce a check.
The most widely used specialty consumer reports relate to:
- Check-writing history—bounced checks and accounts closed due to fraud or insufficient funds.
- Tenant history—rental history, including eviction actions obtained from court records or previous landlords.
- Insurance claims history—history on your past homeowner and vehicle claims.
- Medical history—routine health information and history of medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma or depression.
- Prescription history—prescription drugs used and dosages/refill history.
- Employment background—screening for criminal history, marital status, prior addresses and driving record.
While specialty credit reports do not exist at every agency for every consumer, it is to your advantage to learn what has been reported and to whom. It is equally important to understand your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act as the information contained within a specialty consumer report may be utilized to deny employment, a bank account, apartment rental, health, life or auto insurance.
If you are denied based upon information contained within a specialty consumer report, be sure to obtain the required notice of adverse action. Thereafter, request a copy of the offending specialty consumer report and dispute any information deemed inaccurate, obsolete or fraudulent.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the specialty consumer reporting industry. In conjunction with other legislation, consumers have important rights that include:
- The right to one free report every year or upon notice of adverse action. Upon request, specialty consumer reporting agencies must provide a free copy of your report once per year or upon denial based upon information in the report.
- The right to dispute inaccurate or obsolete information. The specialty consumer reporting agency must investigate your dispute and correct or remove inaccurate or outdated records.
- The right to be advised of a background check. An employer who plans to conduct a background check must notify you and get your permission.
In an effort to avoid unnecessary embarrassment, consumers should order a specialty consumer report prior to applying for employment, a bank account, apartment rental, health, life or auto insurance. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends requesting specialty consumer reports under the following circumstances:
- When shopping for homeowner or automobile insurance. Order a copy of your CLUE (comprehensive loss underwriting exchange) or A-Plus claims report. If you filed claims on existing policies, review the report for accuracy.
- If someone has fraudulently accessed your bank account. Order a copy of your Chexsystems report.
- When applying for employment. Find out the name of the screening company and order a copy of your report prior to authorizing release to a third-party.
- If you are an identity theft victim. Order all credit and specialty consumer reports. Place a fraud alert and dispute all information related to the identity theft.
- If you plan to rent a home. Order your tenant history report.
- When applying for private health, life, long-term care or disability insurance. Order your MIB report from the Medical Information Bureau.
Unlike the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, there is no “one-stop shop” for obtaining your specialty consumer reports. An individual request must be submitted to each agency.
To order a medical history report, contact Medical Information Bureau at 866-692-6901.
To order an employment background screening report, contact ChoicePoint at 866-312-8075.
Bill Lewis is the principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates and host of the Credit Report with Bill Lewis — a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends and issues on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida.