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       ...Through the Fair Credit Reporting Act

    If you've ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, there's a file about you. This file
    contains information on where you work and live, how you
    pay your bills, and whether you've been sued, arrested, or
    filed for bankruptcy.

    Companies that gather and sell this information are called
    Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs). The most common
    type of CRA is the credit bureau. The information CRAs sell
    about you to creditors, employers, insurers, and other
    businesses is called a consumer report.

    The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enforced by the
    Federal Trade Commission, is designed to promote
    accuracy and ensure the privacy of the information used in
    consumer reports. Recent amendments to the Act expand
    your rights and place additional requirements on CRAs.
    Businesses that supply information about you to CRAs and
    those that use consumer reports also have new
    responsibilities under the law.

    Here are some questions consumers commonly ask about
    consumer reports and CRAs-and the answers. Note that you
    may have additional rights under state laws. Contact your
    state Attorney General or local consumer protection agency
    for more information. 

    Q. How do I find the CRA that has my
    report?

    A. Contact the CRAs listed in the Yellow Pages under
    "credit" or "credit rating and reporting." Because more than
    one CRA may have a file on you, call each until you locate
    all the agencies maintaining your file. The three major
    national credit bureaus are: 

       Equifax 
       P.O. Box 740241, 
       Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 
       (800) 685-1111. 

       Experian (formerly TRW), 
       P.O. Box 949, 
       Allen, TX 75013 
       (800) 682-7654. 

       Trans Union, 
       760 West Sproul Road, 
       P.O. Box 390, 
       Springfield, PA 19064-0390 
       (800) 916-8800. 

    In addition, anyone who takes action against you in
    response to a report supplied by a CRA-such as denying
    your application for credit, insurance, or employment-must
    give you the name, address, and telephone number of the
    CRA that provided the report. 

    Q. Do I have a right to know what's in
    my report?

    A. Yes, if you ask for it. The CRA must tell you everything in
    your report, including medical information, and in most
    cases, the sources of the information. The CRA also must
    give you a list of everyone who has requested your report
    within the past year-two years for employment related
    requests. 

    Q. Is there a charge for my report?

    A. Sometimes. There's no charge if a company takes
    adverse action against you, such as denying your
    application for credit, insurance or employment, and you
    request your report within 30 days of receiving the notice of
    the action.

    The notice will give you the name, address, and phone
    number of the CRA. In addition, you're entitled to one free
    report a year if you can prove that 

       (1) you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within
       60 days, 
       (2) you're on welfare, or 
       (3) your report is inaccurate because of fraud.
       Otherwise, a CRA may charge you up to $8 for a copy of
       your report. 

    Q. What can I do about inaccurate or incomplete
    information?

    A. Under the new law, both the CRA and the information
    provider have responsibilities for correcting inaccurate or
    incomplete information in your report. To protect all your
    rights under this law, contact both the CRA and the
    information provider.

    First, tell the CRA in writing what information you believe is
    inaccurate. CRAs must reinvestigate the items in
    question-usually within 30 days- unless they consider your
    dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data
    you provide about the dispute to the information provider.
    After the information provider receives notice of a dispute
    from the CRA, it must investigate, review all relevant
    information provided by the CRA, and report the results to
    the CRA. If the information provider finds the disputed
    information to be inaccurate, it must notify all nationwide
    CRAs so that they can correct this information in your file.

    When the reinvestigation is complete, the CRA must give
    you the written results and a free copy of your report if the
    dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or
    removed, the CRA cannot put the disputed information back
    in your file unless the information provider verifies its
    accuracy and completeness, and the CRA gives you a
    written notice that includes the name, address, and phone
    number of the provider.

    Second, tell the creditor or other information provider in
    writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify an
    address for disputes. If the provider then reports the item to
    any CRA, it must include a notice of your dispute. In
    addition, if you are correct-that is, if the information is
    inaccurate-the information provider may not use it again.

    Q. What can I do if the CRA or information provider won't
    correct the information I dispute?

    A. A reinvestigation may not resolve your dispute with the
    CRA. If that's the case, ask the CRA to include your
    statement of the dispute in your file and in future reports. If
    you request, the CRA also will provide your statement to
    anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent
    past. There usually is a fee for this service.

    If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item,
    a notice of your dispute must be included anytime the
    information provider reports the item to a CRA. 

    Q. Can my employer get my report?

    A. Only if you say it is okay. A CRA may not supply
    information about you to your employer, or to a prospective
    employer, without your written consent.

    Q. Can creditors, employers, or insurers get a report that
    contains medical information about me?

    A. Not without your approval.

    Q. What should I know about "investigative consumer
    reports"?

    A. "Investigative consumer reports" are detailed reports
    that involve interviews with your neighbors or
    acquaintances about your lifestyle, character, and
    reputation. They may be used in connection with insurance
    and employment applications. You'll be notified in writing
    when a company orders such a report. The notice will
    explain your right to request certain information about the
    report from the company you applied to. If your application
    is rejected, you may get additional information from the
    CRA. However, the CRA does not have to reveal the
    sources of the information. 

    Q. How long can a CRA report negative
    information?

    A. Seven years. There are certain exceptions: 

       Bankruptcy information may be reported for 10 years. 
       Information reported in response to an application for a
       job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limit. 
       Information reported because of an application for more
       than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no
       time limit. 
       Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment
       against you can be reported for seven years or until the
       statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. 

    Q. Can anyone get a copy of my report?

    A. No. Only people with a legitimate business need, as
    recognized by the FCRA. For example, a company is allowed
    to get your report if you apply for credit, insurance,
    employment, or to rent an apartment.

    Q. How can I stop a CRA from including me on lists for
    unsolicited credit and insurance offers?

    A. Creditors and insurers may use CRA file information as a
    basis for sending you unsolicited offers. These offers must
    include a toll-free number for you to call if you want to
    remove your name and address from lists for two years;
    completing a form that the CRA provides for this purpose
    will keep your name off the lists permanently. 

    Q. Do I have the right to sue for
    damages?

    A. You may sue a CRA, a user or-in some cases-a provider
    of CRA data, in state or federal court for most violations of
    the FCRA. If you win, the defendant will have to pay
    damages and reimburse you for attorney fees to the extent
    ordered by the court. 

    Q. Are there other laws I should know
    about?

    A. Yes. If your credit application was denied, the Equal
    Credit Opportunity Act requires creditors to specify why-if
    you ask. For example, the creditor must tell you whether you
    were denied because you have "no credit file" with a CRA or
    because the CRA says you have "delinquent obligations."
    The ECOA also requires creditors to consider additional
    information you might supply about your credit history. You
    may want to find out why the creditor denied your
    application before you contact the CRA. 

    Q. Where should I report violations of
    the law?

    A. Although the FTC can't act as your lawyer in private
    disputes, information about your experiences and concerns
    is vital to the enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
    Send your questions or complaints to: 

       Consumer Response Center - FCRA, 
       Federal Trade Commission, 
       Washington, D.C. 20580.

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