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TransUnion, Equifax, Experian may have violated credit reporting rules, says Rep. Jim Clyburn

A centrist Democrat wants credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion investigated for allegedly failing to respond to consumer complaints during the pandemic.

Rep. James Clyburn, the chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said the nation̵[ads1]7;s three largest nationwide consumer reporting agencies have “longstanding problems” responding to consumers who raise complaints about credit reporting errors.

“These data also raise concerns about whether [credit rating companies] is meeting all of its obligations to consumers and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA),” the South Carolina Democrat wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra.

Clyburn asked the CEOs of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion in May about the companies’ responses to consumer complaints in the early days of the pandemic.

The CFPB then reported that 4.1% of complaints were resolved in 2021, compared to nearly 25% of complaints in 2019, before the pandemic.

And the majority of credit report disputes have not resulted in the correction or removal of reported errors from credit reports. The subcommittee found that Equifax did not change more than half of the disputed items each year from 2019 to 2021. Experian corrected about 52% of the disputed late payments or other bad data, while TransUnion made corrections to between 49% and 53% of the credit reports in during this time.

The subcommittee partly credited the pause in student loan payments and an increase in pandemic-related identity theft to credit reporting errors.

Under the CARES Act, interim loan payments were to be reported as current, even though some lenders may have mistakenly categorized them as late. Consumer fraud can also lead to erroneous consumer credit reports.

But consumers have been disputing information found in their credit reports on a larger scale than previously known, the subcommittee found. The CFPB estimated the combined number of dispute filings among Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to be 8 million in 2021. But data obtained by the subcommittee showed that Equifax alone received nearly 14 million complaints that year.

The CFPB also received a “record-breaking” amount of complaints about credit rating agencies from 2020 to 2021 with more than 619,000 in 2021 alone. Consumers disputed nearly 336 million items, including names, addresses or credit accounts, on their credit reports from 2019 to 2021, the subcommittee found.

Yet, according to evidence obtained by the subcommittee, credit assessors dismiss millions of disputes a year without investigation. At least 13.8 million were thrown out between 2019 and 2021, the subcommittee found.

Dismissing disputes violates fair credit laws if any are sent directly by consumers to authorized representatives. The companies’ defense, the subcommittee says, is that disputes are dismissed without investigation when they suspect that it is a credit repair service that is making the complaint.

But the subcommittee says each agency uses vague criteria to determine which disputes are submitted by an unauthorized third party. Equifax, for example, throws out emails that “tend to use identical language and format [and] comes from the same postcode.”

Experian accounts for “envelope characteristics” and “letter characteristics,” including “same/similar ink color” and “same/similar font,” when choosing which disputes to ignore. TransUnion also uses envelope-based criteria in the rejection process.

The subcommittee also found that credit rating agencies referred over half of disputes to data providers for investigation between 2019 and 2021. TransUnion referred the most at 80% to 82%.

Data providers have been cited by the CFPB for conducting inadequate investigations. The agency also cited the credit reporting companies for accepting these findings without an independent investigation.

“The prevalence of credit reporting errors has been of particular concern at a time when Americans have needed access to credit to cope with difficult financial circumstances caused by the pandemic,” Clyburn wrote in the letter to Chopra. “Errors in credit reports can lower consumers’ credit scores, potentially blocking access to loans, housing and employment, among other serious consequences.”

The Consumer Data Industry Association, the trade association that represents Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, said all disputes that consumers share directly with three credit reports are handled according to federal requirements.

“Recent reports have highlighted trends including increased activity by certain credit repair firms, which could increase the number of complaints and undermine the process of addressing legitimate inquiries,” a representative for the association told CNBC. “The credit reporting industry will continue to work with the CFPB and policymakers to better serve consumers and continue to deliver innovative solutions to increase financial opportunity for consumers.”

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