Creepy Credit Bureaus

How credit reporting agencies profit by violating digital privacy

Andy Spears
2 min readJul 22, 2022

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Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

A credit score is essential for anyone applying for a loan and is often used in decisions about renting an apartment and even for getting a job.

In short, what a credit bureau does with the information it has about you can have a big impact on your life and the way you interact financially.

The consumer protection attorneys at Finn Law Group report on how the arenas of big data and credit reporting intersect — creating a “surveillance economy” that can have a big (and negative) impact on consumers.

Here’s how they describe the threat:

To keep their data fresh, companies are constantly appending consumer records with “predictive” data that is generated by computer “black box” models. This often includes things like a consumer’s likelihood of getting divorced, their health status, and even how likely they are to engage in risky behavior. Predictive data is often used to target ads and marketing materials, but it can also be used to make credit decisions.

This is harmful to consumers in several ways. First, it disproportionately impacts low-income consumers and minorities who are more likely to be ‘credit invisible’ or ‘unscorable.’ This means they don’t have enough information in their credit file to generate a score, so they’re automatically treated as high-risk. Second, even if you do have a good credit score, you may still be denied credit if you don’t meet other criteria used to judge your ‘creditworthiness.’ For example, you may be judged as being too young or too old, having too much debt, or living in an ‘undesirable’ neighborhood. Third, data breaches are becoming more common, and our personal information is at risk of being leaked or sold without our consent.

It’s important to note that the CFPB is taking some action to address these concerns. Currently, there’s little incentive for credit reporting agencies to correct errors. After all, they work for the banks and credit card companies who pay for their information, not the consumers who suffer from the mistakes.

If you notice an error on your credit report, contest it with the credit bureaus — in writing and by certified mail.

If you don’t get results that way, file a complaint with the CFPB.

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Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .