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If it wasn’t before, Equifax now certainly is a household name.
Since the big Equifax data breach, many consumers have engaged — perhaps for the first time — with each of the three major U.S. credit bureaus, scrambling to secure their identities after hackers stole the personal information of 143 million Americans.
But these are not the only consumer reporting agencies that possess sensitive consumer information. And they’re not the only places you should look to lock down your personal information.
Much like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, some of the smaller credit agencies will allow you to freeze your credit files, including ChexSystems, Innovis, Clarity Services and CoreLogic. None of these firms will charge you to place a security freeze on your file.
What’s on file
Just like the big three, these companies also possess important data that identity thieves find valuable. Information like your Social Security number and driver’s license number might be in these companies’ databases, along with personal details that can be used to authenticate accounts, like where you bank or a former residence.
Reviewing your consumer files with these companies, especially if you suspect identity theft, is a smart move. Even if you are not their target customer, such as a subprime borrower or someone who might lease an apartment, your information could still be on file.
Here’s a rundown of these reporting agencies.
ChexSystems, founded in 1971, reports to financial institutions when you apply for a new bank account. The firm collects Social Security numbers, addresses and birthdays, as well as information about former residences, bank accounts and retail transactions. You can order your consumer report as well as request a credit freeze directly through the firm’s website.
Keep in mind, there are instances when a credit freeze won’t prevent the release of your information. If you owned an account that was closed because of substantial overdrafts, ATM abuse or fraud, ChexSystems can release that information to banks or other financial institutions reviewing your application for a savings or checking account.
Innovis, often referred to as the fourth credit bureau, supplies consumer data to credit card companies and other businesses. You can request one free credit report per year. You can request a credit freeze on the company’s website, by mail, by phone or in person, at its Pittsburgh headquarters.
Clarity Services works primarily with subprime lenders to provide credit history and other personal information to assist in application processing. You don’t need to be a subprime borrower, however, for Clarity to have your personal information, including credit history, name and Social Security number. You can place a fraud alert or request a security freeze with Clarity by filling out a form and mailing or faxing it to its Clearwater, Florida office.
CoreLogic works with a number of companies in a wide variety of industries, from mortgages and insurance to credit unions and auto lenders. To place a credit freeze with CoreLogic, you can either call the firm or fill out a form, which is provided on its website, and fax it in, along with identifying information.
Get a copy of your file
By law, all consumer reporting companies must furnish you with a copy of your file when you request it. Most companies will provide this report free of charge, but some charge a small fee. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they can’t charge more than $12. Some companies, like ChexSystems, allow you to request a free report online.
However, if information in your report caused a negative decision to be made against you, then the reporting agency must give you a free report, regardless of its fee policy.
Not all of these companies will have information on you, and you will have to contact each one individually to find out if they do.
How safe is your information
Many consumer reporting companies must have your consent before they release your information. The problem is that this protection doesn’t safeguard you from cyberattacks or even crude fraudsters who can exploit weak safety protocols.
The Federal Trade Commission has rules in place to make sure credit reporting agencies protect your information and minimize any damage done by existing identity theft. This is not a cure-all for preventing identity theft.
In fact, the FTC has sued several consumer data brokers, including ChoicePoint, Inc. and InfoTrack Information Services, for not screening prospective subscribers thoroughly enough before selling them sensitive information. This is an example of how big companies are vulnerable to thieves and, also, how little control we have over our own data once it’s in the hands of third parties.