Columbus consumer Donna Jones noticed a debt on her credit report that she knew she didn’t owe. She pointed out the inaccuracy in a letter to one of the credit reporting agencies and asked them to correct her record. The agency refused, claiming they had investigated the charge and it was legitimate. Donna countered with another request accompanied by a court order, but the agency didn’t budge. That’s when Donna came to my office for help.
We were able to resolve Donna’s case — nearly $10,000 of debt she didn’t owe a landlord was removed from her credit report — but an error beyond her control resulted in unnecessary cost and inconvenience. A flawed credit report hiked the insurance and interest rates Donna had to pay. “They don’t understand,” Donna said about the agency and their inaccurate report, “how it affects someone’s life every day.”
After a 2012 Columbus Dispatch series called “Credit Scars” showed how credit reporting errors disrupted or damaged people’s lives, I reached out to all other state attorneys general to launch a multistate investigation into the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. We met with them, reviewed their procedures, traveled to their headquarters and negotiated with the agencies to change the way they do business.
After three years of work our efforts paid off, and the credit reporting agencies agreed to make significant nationwide reforms. Ohio and 30 additional states reached a settlement that requires the three major credit reporting agencies to produce more accurate reports and be much more responsive to consumers.
The settlement will help protect consumers from credit reports that are incorrect, out of date, or even mixed up with someone else’s report. It will also reduce the chance that a consumer is wrongly denied a loan for a house or a car or even a job due to an erroneous credit report.
Under the settlement, the credit reporting agencies will more carefully monitor data providers, require additional information from providers of certain types of data, limit direct-to-consumer marketing, increase protections for consumers who dispute information on their credit reports, limit certain information that can be added to a credit report, provide additional consumer education, and comply with state and federal laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act. We will also have the legal flexibility to go to court quickly if we become aware of any violations.
In addition to launching the 2012 investigation that led to this settlement, my office established an Identity Theft Unit in 2012 to help victims rectify the effects of identity theft, including clearing credit reporting errors. So far we’ve received more than 3,000 identity theft complaints and helped clear more than $750,000 in fraudulent accounts. We also offered to help Ohio’s public children’s service agencies meet a federal requirement for young people who are at least 16 years old and within the foster system to have their credit checked and any errors on their credit reports cleared.
We believe that the changes brought about by the settlement will directly improve the accuracy of consumers’ credit reports and the quality of service they receive when trying to correct errors. We will continue to monitor the credit reporting agencies and do all we can to protect and assist Ohio’s consumers.
For more information about the settlement or our identity theft assistance, please visit our website at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov.
Mike DeWine is Ohio Attorney General.