Who’s tracking you:
Updated On: Oct 15 2013 12:22:27 AM EDT
Lauren Kantor thought she was up to speed on how to keep her financial record safe. She makes sure to pull her credit report with the three major credit bureaus constantly.
"I often check the credit to see where the score is at and if there's anything new on the report that I should know about," Kantor said.
But Kantor had never pulled a different type of report -- a consumer report from a "nationwide consumer reporting agency."
These companies may be tracking if you've ever gotten a ticket, your utility payment history, your insurance claim record or know if you've ever violated a lease or bounced a check.
Some agencies are keeping tabs on things like the prescription drugs consumers buy and even medical conditions.
"I find that absolutely crazy," Kantor said. "I had no idea."
We found millions of people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies, which get information from court files, banks, even companies you have an account with.
"I don't think most people realize there's so many different agencies and data collection services out there right now," said Kim Gough of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "And most of the time they don't actually find out about it until something negative happens."
"Something negative" means you may be turned down for bank accounts, insurance, jobs, apartments, even cable TV.
But federal law says you have the right to request annual reports from these agencies, just like you do with the "big three" credit bureaus. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau keeps a list of many of the biggest consumer agencies.
Experts say you should run a report on yourself, make sure that it's accurate, and if it's not accurate, then take the steps necessary to correct the information that's not accurate.
But that can be easier said than done. The FTC recently sued four nationwide consumer reporting agencies for not properly disclosing people's records and not following proper dispute procedures.
The industry defends collecting this data, saying the specialized reporting not only protects businesses, but can help consumers who have made responsible choices.
But Kantor is not taking any chances. She's found errors on her traditional credit reports before and plans to keep a close eye on these new consumer reports by requesting them regularly.
"I should really know what kind of information is out there about me, and if there are mistakes, I really need to get them corrected," Kantor said.
If an agency tells you they don't have data on you, don't worry, that may only mean no one reported negative information about you.