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The credit report you don't know about

For many years, there were three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Add a fourth to the list: Innovis Data Solutions.

Unlike the Big Three credit bureaus, Innovis doesn't sell consumers' credit histories to lenders, insurers and potential employers. Innovis specializes in helping creditors compile mailing lists. Adverse information on your Innovis credit report, accurate or not, could prevent you from getting favorable credit offers in the mail. Whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

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Innovis became a major player at the beginning of 2001, when mortgage financing titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began requiring their mortgage servicers to report borrowers' payment histories to the Houston-based credit repository. Fannie Mae requires servicers to notify Innovis of delinquencies and foreclosures; Freddie Mac requires servicers to tell Innovis about every borrower's payment status, current or late.

The federal government reports to Innovis about individuals who are late with debt payments to the feds.

Innovis offers two products to creditors. FailSafe is a database containing names of consumers who are late or who have been late on debt payments.

"You can cleanse your pre-approved mailing lists before offers are printed and mailed," reducing cost and risk, Innovis's Web site boasts. "One last screening against FailSafe will safely eliminate the undesirable names prior to your mail date."

The other product, called New Movers, is a monthly list of people who have reported a change of address. If you got a torrent of unsolicited commercial mail after your most recent move, it is because of lists such as New Movers.

Ask consumer advocates and privacy experts what they know about Innovis, and they'll tell you that they have heard of it and are curious about the company, but don't know much about it. Innovis is an affiliate of CBC Companies, a closely held business based in Columbus, Ohio, that operates a network of local credit bureaus, runs a nationwide collection agency, and screens employees for other businesses.

CBC executive Jonathan Price declined to comment about the company. He said he might be willing to answer questions after the first of the year, but that he won't have anything new to announce then.

The Innovis Web site does not provide an address for consumers to request a copy of their Innovis credit report. Instead, it advises consumes to "contact your local Credit Bureau." Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers should be able to request copies of their credit reports from Innovis and to dispute any mistakes they find in it.

When Greg Fisher, author of The Credit Scoring Site, sought the address for consumers to request their Innovis credit files, Price told him it was: PO Box 219297, Houston, TX, 77218-99297.

The Consumer Data Industry Association, the Washington-based lobbying arm for the credit bureau industry, refers to "four reporting systems" and "the four national repositories." But on the organization's Web page that tells consumers where to write to get their credit reports, it lists only Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Innovis is absent.

Last summer, art student Edward Kulzer discovered that he had "a few very detrimental and baseless errors" in his credit report. He easily found contact information for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and ordered his credit reports from those three companies. All contained inaccuracies, he says.

Kulzer e-mails: "As my search for knowledge and resolution to my situation trickled on, though, I found clues and hidden whispers of a fourth credit bureau -- very secretive, very tough to deal with, very destructive behind the scenes. The hints and subtle allegations painted a completely Orwellian scenario." The limited information he had about Innovis "appealed to the James Bond side of me."

So he found Innovis's address and ordered a credit file. He says Innovis sent it quicker than the other three credit bureaus. More important, his Innovis file was accurate. No errors.

"So," Kulzer concludes, "the Innovis chapter of my fight for financial justice opened and shut with but a whisper."

-- Posted: Nov. 14, 2002




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