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Your financial-details-for-sale: Monitor at your own risk

Kelly Dilworth

If you think logging onto AnnualCreditReport.com and pulling your free annual credit reports from the big three credit bureaus Experian, Equifax and TransUnion is a pain, try pulling your specialty reports.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is recommending that consumers ask for their file disclosures from each of the specialty consumer reporting companies that are collecting their financial minutiae — ranging from utility payments to insurance claims — and selling it to other businesses at least once per year.Your financial-details-for-sale: Monitor at your own risk

That way, consumers can make sure that the companies that are profiting off their most sensitive personal details aren’t hawking information that’s incorrect and unfairly hurting their ability to get a job, rent an apartment or obtain affordable insurance.

The problem is it takes so much time and effort to pull every report that could possibly be misreporting your financial information that only the most dedicated consumers — with plenty of free time — are likely to follow through.

I know because I tried.

There’s a form on my desk from the specialty consumer reporting company Early Warning Services (which tracks checking account information) that I have to fill out and mail in order to get a free annual copy of my file disclosure, which I’m entitled to under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

I know that I should fill it out. I want to fill it out — especially since I already spent at least 20 minutes on the phone with the same agency. But I have a hunch that the blank disclosure form that’s been sitting on my desk for nearly a week will remain that way until I eventually recycle it months later.

I also downloaded several other disclosure request forms from specialty consumer reporting companies that are collecting my financial information and selling it to other businesses.

In addition, I called around half a dozen 800 numbers listed on some specialty consumer reporting companies’ websites and waited patiently on the line until I could whisper my personal details over the phone.

I dutifully filled out numerous online disclosure request forms and wrote down the addresses of another half dozen consumer reporting companies that require a handwritten letter or form before they will process a disclosure request.

Together, it took me about three hours just to request my file disclosures from the handful of agencies that let you request your report online or by phone — and another hour or so to figure out the extra steps needed to get my disclosures from the rest.

By the time I got to printing out the multiple forms I still have to fill out and mail, I lost interest in monitoring my financial-details-for-sale. Who has the time to spend half a day requesting financial information from companies you’ve probably never even heard of?

There are dozens of companies in the U.S. that collect and sell consumer data, and they all have different processes that you have to follow to get your federally guaranteed free disclosures. (The CFPB lists about 40 of them, but admits the list isn’t exhaustive.)

Some specialty consumer reporting agencies won’t even give you your free disclosure unless you’ve been denied something as a result of it, such as a job. Others make it so cumbersome to request a report that the CFPB issued a stern warning for them to fix their procedures — or else.

“Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies can have great influence over a consumer’s tenancy, insurance premiums or even employment,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement released Nov. 29. “Today, the CFPB is reminding these companies that they must follow the law and provide consumers with easy access to their free annual report. If we have reason to believe that companies are not following the law, we will take action.”

If it were up to me, I’d create an online repository similar to AnnualCreditReport.com that consumers can go to and request each of their reports online, without having to go through the hassle of making numerous phone calls or mailing multiple letters. At least then, it would be somewhat quicker to monitor what’s being said about you to other companies — and perhaps more people would do it.

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