WASHINGTON -- One in four credit reports has errors serious enough to disqualify consumers from buying a home, opening a bank account or getting a job, a consumer group says.
Credit profiles are maintained on some 90 percent of American adults, and many include such serious errors as incorrectly listing people as delinquent, the Public Interest Research Group said in a report Thursday.
Of 197 credit reports surveyed from people in 30 states, 79 percent had some error. The people who provided information for the survey were members of PIRG -- an arrangement that a spokesman for the credit-reporting industry said unfairly skewed the results.
Fifty-four percent of the reports surveyed included personal identifying information that was misspelled, outdated, belonged to someone else or was otherwise incorrect, the group said. Thirty percent contained credit accounts that consumers had closed but that remained listed as open.
"The big credit bureaus and big business tolerate big mistakes in credit reports," said Ed Mierzwinski, PIRG's consumer program director. "But those mistakes ruin the financial reputations of hardworking Americans."
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, which use them to help determine the likelihood that a person will pay his obligations.
Besides objecting to the way the survey was conducted, with PIRG surveying its own members, Norm Magnuson of the Consumer Data Industry Association protested that the group "unilaterally decided what is a serious error" in presenting its findings.
Messages left with spokesmen for Experian and Trans Union were not immediately returned Thursday. An Equifax representative could not immediately be reached.
PIRG and other groups advise consumers to examine their reports from all three credit bureaus at least once a year before applying for new credit. The reports are available without charge in several states and will be provided free nationwide by late next year.
Previous studies by consumer groups also have shown frequent errors and omissions in credit reports. Besides being denied new credit, a consumer with an inaccurate report can unfairly be charged high interest rates as a "subprime," or potentially risky, borrower.
In 1996, Congress required Equifax, Experian and Trans Union to provide consumers with a toll-free telephone number and access to credit bureau personnel during normal business hours, with a view to helping people resolve mistakes in their credit reports.
In January 2000, the three agencies paid a total $2.5 million to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that they blocked calls from more than a million consumers who wanted to discuss their credit reports.
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