Gra­ham: Credit re­port­ing is pow­er­ful, and a bit in­tru­sive

Tulsa World - - Our Lives - Gin­nie Gra­ham 918-581-8376 gin­nie.gra­ham @tul­saworld.com Twit­ter: @Gin­nieGra­ham

it asked for the last six dig­its of my So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber and my last name.

Huh? Aren't we sup­posed to avoid shar­ing stuff like that on­line?

Well, I did it any­way and found that the com­pany be­lieves my “in­for­ma­tion may have been im­pacted by this in­ci­dent.” Then, it asked me to sign up for some credit fraud pro­gram. How­ever, it only took some in­for­ma­tion and asked me to re­turn later for the rest.

None of this in­spires con­fi­dence, and it started to freak me out.

On Fri­day, Hunter said he was join­ing 34 state at­tor­neys gen­eral in sign­ing a let­ter to Equifax to ad­dress con­cerns over the com­pany con­tin­u­ing to pro­mote its fee-based mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram, con­sumers pay­ing fees for a se­cu­rity freeze, and long wait times or the in­abil­ity to speak with some­one at the call cen­ter.

Name and num­ber:

Equifax is one of three com­pa­nies col­lect­ing all fi­nan­cial transactions — bank­ing, credit cards, mort­gage pay­ments, util­i­ties, mer­chants and any other group who gets or wants my money.

Credit re­ports can go to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, land­lords, cred­i­tors and oth­ers who may be deemed to have a le­git­i­mate rea­son. Even the Tulsa Pub­lic Schools vol­un­teer form asks for permission to do a credit check if the dis­trict feels it nec­es­sary.

Over time, en­ti­ties have found lots of ways to get a hold of a per­son's credit re­port. It's no longer just about be­ing ap­proved or de­nied a line of credit to buy a ma­jor item.

Na­tional news sto­ries go­ing back nearly a decade

What to do af­ter Equifax hack?

Get your free credit re­ports from Equifax, Ex­pe­rian, and Tran­sUnion by go­ing to an­nu­al­cred­itre­port.com. If there is ac­tiv­ity you don't rec­og­nize, then it might be iden­tity theft.

If you think your iden­tity has been stolen, go to Iden­ti­tyTheft.gov to find out what to do.

Con­sider plac­ing a credit freeze, which will make it harder for some­one to open an ac­count in your name. It won't stop a thief from mak­ing charges to an ex­ist­ing ac­count.

Mon­i­tor your ex­ist­ing credit card and bank ac­counts

show how some em­ploy­ers screen out job can­di­dates based on credit score. Also, those with credit is­sues may have higher in­surance rates or be de­nied cov­er­age.

This three-digit num­ber has be­come a judg­ment on char­ac­ter and in some cases wielded like a scar­let let­ter.

All of this makes it harder for peo­ple to dig out of the debt, which causes the lower credit score in the first place. Or there may be er­rors on the re­ports that con­sumers aren't aware of.

That's a pretty pow­er­ful, and in­tru­sive, thing when you re­ally think about it.

But it wasn't al­ways this way.

Back­ground:

The na­tion's ob­ses­sion with con­sumer credit scores is a rel­a­tively mod­ern phe­nom­e­non.

The col­lec­tion of in­tel­li­gence for credit re­ports started in the busi­ness world on in­vestors in the mid-1800s. Its his­tory is full of es­pi­onage, sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis and sub­jec­tiv­ity of­ten steeped in race, class and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to Time mag­a­zine.

By the end of the Civil War, the main tenets of for charges.

If you de­cide not to place a credit freeze, con­sider plac­ing a fraud alert on files. It will warn cred­i­tors that you may be an iden­tity theft vic­tim and they should ver­ify that any­one seek­ing credit in your name re­ally is you.

File taxes early. Tax iden­tity theft hap­pens when some­one uses your So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber to get a tax re­fund or a job.

Visit Iden­ti­tyTheft.gov/ databreach to learn more about pro­tec­tion af­ter a data breach. con­tem­po­rary credit re­port­ing were es­tab­lished: pri­vate-sec­tor mass sur­veil­lance, bu­reau­cratic in­for­ma­tion shar­ing and a rat­ings sys­tem.

Those prac­tices started shift­ing to in­di­vid­ual con­sumer credit in the early 20th cen­tury.

Equifax was es­tab­lished in 1899 as the Re­tail Credit Co. (RCC) and ex­panded to in­di­vid­u­als. Be­cause those early days did not have rules gov­ern­ing what could be gath­ered and shared in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity, the com­pany added a lot of per­sonal de­tails.

When the com­pany an­nounced in the late 1960s that it planned to dig­i­tize in­for­ma­tion, pri­vacy ad­vo­cate Alan Westin led a charge against the move. He ar­gued that peo­ple would have a harder time es­cap­ing their past mis­takes.

In a New York Times ar­ti­cle from 1970, Westin wrote: “Re­tail Credit files may in­clude facts, statis­tics, in­ac­cu­ra­cies and ru­mors ... about vir­tu­ally ev­ery phase of a per­son's life: his mar­i­tal trou­bles, jobs, school his­tory, child­hood, sex life, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties . ... Al­most in­evitably, trans­fer­ring in­for­ma­tion from a man­ual file to a computer trig­gers a threat to civil liberties, to pri­vacy, to a man's very hu­man­ity be­cause ac­cess is so sim­ple.”

That was an in­ter­est­ing bit of prophecy.

Congress launched hear­ings into the credit re­port prac­tices, lead­ing to pas­sage of the Fair Credit Re­port­ing Act in 1970. Among its re­quire­ments were to open the files to con­sumers, delete neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion af­ter a pe­riod and ban data on race, sex­u­al­ity and dis­abil­ity.

Be­cause of the bad pub­lic­ity, RCC re­named it­self Equifax. Now, it might need a re­brand­ing cam­paign again.

In the spot­light:

Some of the com­pany's ac­tiv­i­ties are rais­ing red flags.

Af­ter the in­for­ma­tion breach was an­nounced late on Sept. 7, Bloomberg re­ported that three top ex­ec­u­tives sold about $2 mil­lion in com­pany stock within days of the hack. The com­pany dis­cov­ered “unau­tho­rized ac­cess” to its sys­tems on July 29, and three ex­ec­u­tives com­pleted stock sales on Aug. 1-2.

Com­pany of­fi­cials say the ex­ec­u­tives didn't know about the data breach at the time.

The Wall Street Journal dis­cov­ered that Equifax had spent $500,000 on lob­by­ing Congress in the first half of this year to weaken reg­u­la­tions and limit le­gal li­a­bil­i­ties in sit­u­a­tions such as be­ing hacked.

Con­sumer in­for­ma­tion taken from Equifax in­clude names, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, birth dates, ad­dresses and driver's li­cense num­bers. Most of those are facts, not changing over time, which could make this a headache years down the road.

In ad­di­tion, about 209,000 peo­ple had credit card num­bers stolen and an­other 182,000 peo­ple with doc­u­ments dis­put­ing credit re­ports had those pa­pers swiped.

When star­ing at the Equifax screen that alluded to my be­ing in this drama, all this news came back to me.

Many peo­ple I know have had er­rors on credit re­ports, putting the bur­den of proof on them to sort it out. It can take years. Of­ten, peo­ple don't know about prob­lems un­til they get de­nied credit or lose out on a job.

That's un­fair, con­sid­er­ing the power th­ese com­pa­nies wield. But we as a coun­try handed th­ese for-profit en­ti­ties that in­flu­ence.

A per­son is more than a num­ber, and th­ese com­pa­nies aren't per­fect. Maybe it's time to re­think it all and stop re­ly­ing so much on th­ese scores.

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