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Find out and fix what big data is saying about you

I thought I knew all the information Consumer Reports was collecting about me. Next, I discovered The Work Number. This is a database that reports all salaries received from the company in net and total, dating back to the hire date six years ago.

Another Consumer Reports Agency shows the results of the 2016 echocardiogram. (That was normal.) Yet another person tracks my home and car insurance claims. If you get too many returns at the retail store or if you bounce a check at the casino, it may also appear in the database.

“All data points that someone can track will be the station or someone collecting and selling that information,” says Matthew Loacker, a consumer protection lawyer in Arroyo Grande, California.

Unfortunately, not all reported information is accurate. Mistakes can have serious consequences. Loker says one of his clients lost her lucrative job because her employment screening company confused her with a drug smuggler. By the time the error was fixed, her position was filled. Others have been denied insurance, apartments, bank accounts, and government interests due to database errors.

However, finding and fixing mistakes is not an easy task.

Corporate DOZENS is tracking us

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency currently maintains a 38-page long list of consumer reporting agencies. In addition to the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the list includes 22 employment screeners, 10 tenant screeners, 6 check and bank screeners, 4 insurance reporting agencies and 2 medical information companies. And so on.

Checking all these reports would be a tremendous task, says consumer advocate Ji Chi Wu, a staff lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center. Even narrowing down the options to the institutions most likely to have relevant information can be difficult, Wu said.

“Let’s say you’re signing up for an apartment,” Wu says. “All of these companies are there and I don’t know which one the landlord will use.”

Of course, you can ask the potential landlord, but it can take a long time for the apartment to be rented before you can find and correct any mistakes in the report.

Choose your goal

Privacy advocate Evan Hendricks recommends starting by targeting some of the larger databases. For tenant screening, it may include RealPage or TransUnion SmartMove.

One of the largest consumer data aggregators is LexisNexis, which offers different types of background checks. The report returned is hundreds of pages long and details everything from traffic tickets and hidden weapons permits to all the mortgage amounts you’ve ever had, bankruptcy, tax offices, peasant evictions, and criminal records. It is explained. LexisNexis also operates the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE), which collects and reports vehicle and property claims. You can request a comprehensive report at https://consumer.risk.lexisnexis.com/consumer.

If you’re hired, check out The WorkNumber, which is owned by Equifax and has current salary data for over 136 million jobs. If salary information is there (and probably so), you’ll also know which companies and government agencies have recently checked it.

Government agencies also refer to work number files to combat unemployment fraud and determine the eligibility of the public interest. That’s enough reason to check the file for errors, Wu says.

“People are at risk of being kicked off, kicked off profits, or accused of overpayment because of work numbers,” says Wu.

If you plan to open a new bank account, or if you have problems with your old account, such as not paying overdraft fees or returning checks, please request a Chex Systems report.

If you plan to take out personal life insurance, health insurance, long-term care insurance, or disability insurance, request the file from the MIB and Milliman IntelliScript. The MIB collects information about medical conditions, and Milliman IntelliScript collects prescription drug purchase history.

What to do if you get the report

Normally, you don’t have to pay to request the data, but you may have to wait until you get the data. Some companies can view the file online, but many require you to submit a form or call a toll-free number to request a report. According to CFPB, companies must respond to your request within 15 days of receiving it.

If you find an error, follow the company’s appeal process. If you cannot resolve the issue, you can file a complaint with CFPB.

Credit bureaus, RealPage, LexisNexis, ChexSystems, The Work Number and several other companies offer the option to freeze reports. This usually prevents businesses from accessing data without permission. Freezing can be a bit of a hassle because you need to track your password or PIN, and freezing can slow down your credits and other applications. The trade-off is increased privacy.

Speaking of credit bureaus, you now have free weekly access to credit reports until the end of the year. However, many other consumer reporting agencies limit free reporting to once every 12 months. Mark your calendar as checking your data for errors is likely to be a never-ending task.

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website Nerd Wallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at Nerd Wallet, a certified financial planner and author of the “Your Credit Score”. Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

Related Links:

NerdWallet: 5 steps to clear ChexSystems records https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-steps-to-clear-up-your-chexsystems-record

Consumer Reports: List of Consumer Reporting Companies https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/credit-reports-and-scores/consumer-reporting-companies/

LexisNexis: Access the LexisNexis Consumer Disclosure Report https://consumer.risk.lexisnexis.com/consumer

Find out and fix what big data is saying about you

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