Credit Reports and Employers: A Story From the Trenches

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Normally I omit names when I publish email from readers. But this one comes from Michael David Smith, and as you’ll see, knowing his name is an important part of the story. So, with his permission, here’s his email:

I hope you’ll keep hammering away at the credit reporting agencies. Several years ago my then-boss mentioned to me off-handed, “We hired you even though you have terrible credit.” I was rather stunned and said, “What are you talking about? I have perfect credit, and even if I didn’t, how would you know?” He then informed me that they did a background check on me before hiring me, got a report saying I had terrible credit, but decided I was their best candidate anyway. I asked to see the report they had for me, and my boss dug it out of the HR files. It listed my name (which is a very common name shared by thousands of Americans), four different social security numbers, and about two dozen different credit cards I had allegedly fallen behind on.

So I called the credit reporting agency (I think it was Experian). It took forever to actually get a person on the phone who knew who knew what he was talking about, but when I finally did, the guy said, “Oh, yeah, that happens all the time with people who have common names. Your credit got mixed up with other people who have the same name as you. There’s really nothing we can do about it.”

Eventually, I filled out all sorts of forms contesting all the bad credit they had attributed for me and got them to send me a clean credit report that didn’t mix me up with other Michael Smiths. But it was a long, painful process.

I think this is about par for the course for credit reporting agencies. Basically, they don’t really give a shit if their information is correct. It’s always seemed to me that you should be able to sue them for libel if they distribute false information about you, but outside my own personal fantasyland I assume that’s impossible.

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