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Most of us have heard of the three top national consumer reporting companies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The information they collect can mean the difference of whether you get a credit card, car loan or a mortgage and how much interest you have to pay.
But did you know there are more than 40 smaller specialty national consumer reporting companies keeping track of you?
"These are companies that collect information on a nationwide basis about medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims," says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies can have great influence over a consumer's tenancy, insurance premiums, or even employment," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a recent statement.
PersonalReports.lexisnexis.com, for instance, collects information on your insurance coverage and any losses reported.
Credco.com collects data on property tax filings, rental applications and evictions, property ownership, mortgage obligations, pay day loan and online lending information, bankruptcy, liens, and child support obligations.
NCTUE.com collects information about your utility, cable and telecommunications data.
MIB.com collects information about your medical conditions and data from insurance applications.
You can see the complete list at files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201207_cfpb_list_consumer-reporting-agencies.pdf.
Under federal laws you have the right to see exactly what information is reported about you not only in the top three firms but in all the rest.
Each year you have the right to receive one free report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You also have the right to receive a free report from them if, based on their information, you are denied credit or have other adverse action taken against you.
You can go to one Internet site and receive all three reports: AnnualCreditReport.com.
But consumer advocates recommend that you ask each one separately about four months apart, that way you get three free reports a year.
You can also receive additional help from the Consumers Union at consumersunion.org/creditreport "with information on how to get your free credit report, how to fix mistakes in the report, and why it's so important to check yours every year."
Unfortunately, according the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, only about 20 percent of consumers check their credit reports annually.
"That is a shame," Richard Cordray, the agency's director, told reporters recently.
"Examining the reports each year is the best way to detect and correct errors that can harm a consumer's credit rating, and he urged consumers to do so. Credit reports are the basis for consumers' three-digit credit score, which can determine if they get a favorable rate on a loan, or if they get a loan at all," the New York Times reported.
And just like with the big three you have the right to get a copy of the reports that the smaller specialized firms keep on you.
While federal laws do not require the smaller one to provide free reports, they are required to provide an annual report at a reasonable fee - $11.50 maximum.
They are also required to list their contact information.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently warned several of the companies that they are not in compliance, for instance by not having toll free numbers or making consumers jump through the hoops to get their reports.
You can reach The Watchdog at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.ctwatchdog.com and www.CtCondoNews.com.