In this issue . . .
Though the launch of free annual credit reports in the Western states has gotten a lot of media attention recently, many are not aware that other types of consumer reports, called “specialty consumer reports,” also became available on December 1 to all consumers nationwide.
Specialty reports compile files on consumers relating to:
- Medical conditions (for example, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) report)
- Residential or tenant history and evictions (for example, the Unlawful Detainer (UD) Registry)
- Check writing history (for example ChexSystems)
- Employment background checks
- Homeowner and auto insurance claims (for example, CLUE reports)
Consumers should order a “specialty” report before shopping for new homeowners or automobile insurance, opening a new checking account, applying for private health or life insurance, or renting a home or apartment. Job applicants can benefit from this new law, too. Individuals who find errors in a specialty report have the same rights to dispute and correct as with errors found in a credit report.
For more information about specialty reports and how to order yours, see the PRC’s Fact Sheet 6(b): The “Other” Consumer Reports: What You Should Know about “Specialty” Reports at:
And in case you didn’t hear, starting December 1, consumers in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming are entitled to one free copy of their credit report annually from each of the nationwide credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Those located elsewhere in the nation will get the same right over the next year as the law is phased in across the country. To find out when this law will go into affect in your state, go to:
By requiring the credit bureaus to provide free credit reports annually upon request, the new law enables consumers to more readily monitor if they are victims of identity theft or if their credit reports contain errors. Errors on credit reports can cause unwarranted higher interest rates both on existing credit cards and credit lines for which you’re applying. Disputing those errors and having them removed can save you money.
You do not need to order all three reports at the same time. In fact, the PRC recommends that you order one report every four months and in this way, you can monitor your own credit over the span of a year rather than paying for a service to do so.
Consumers can request their free credit reports when they are available in their state by calling 877-322-8228, by filling out and mailing the Annual Credit Report Request form available at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf, or by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. If you order your reports from the web site, please be aware that the privacy policies of the three bureaus allow them to use your contact information for other uses such as pitching you products and services.
For more information about annual free credit reports and other new rights implemented by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), see the PRC’s Fact Sheet 6(a), FACTA, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act: Consumers Win Some, Lose Some at http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs6a-facta.htm
“Phishing” occurs when a consumer receives a legitimate looking email from what appears to be a reputable online vendor such as eBay, PayPal or a bank. Often phishing spam messages will use legitimate 'From:' email addresses, logos, and links to reputable businesses to dupe unsuspecting consumers to update their credit card and other personal information.
The message instructs you to click on a web link that sends you to a fake web site where you are asked to provide personal information. Such sites ask for information like your name, address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), and bank or credit card account number.
The PRC has learned that not only can providing this kind of information leave consumers at risk for identity theft, but phishing victims have later learned that their personal information was used to register web site domains. And if they also provided a legitimate credit card number, it may have been used to pay for the web site registration, too.
The sites that are being registered using victims' information include bogus online escrow sites, similar to PayPal, or web sites set up to look like legitimate banks. In this way, unsuspecting online consumers will be defrauded, sometimes out of thousands of dollars in a single transaction.
In addition to contacting law enforcement, those who have had their money taken are likely to contact the phishing victim to whom the site is registered, thereby tipping off the victim of the scam. In our experience, most of the bogus web sites originate from other countries.
Unfortunately, companies that register domains do not necessarily verify information about the registrant before allowing the site to be established. Often, the unsuspecting phishing victim will not find out a site has been registered using their information until it's too late. Unfortunately, there is no way to verify if a web site has been registered using your personal information.
For more information about this scam and tips you can take if you are a phishing victim with a web site registered to your name, see the PRC’s Alert: Phishing Emails Can Lead to Domain Registration for Scam Web Sites at:
In late October, a new banking regulation known as the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, or “Check 21” came into effect. Though aimed at expediting check processing and making it less expensive for the financial industry, the law may have some nasty surprises for consumers who pay by check.
It used to be that when you wrote a check, it was deposited into the store’s bank account and then physically transported, usually by truck or by air through several stops before returning back to your bank. The check would then clear your account and transfer the funds to the store’s account, typically several days after you handed your check to the sales clerk.
Under Check 21, the check you write no longer must move beyond the store’s bank. That bank may now transmit an electronic image of your check instead. Your bank, if it opts for electronic processing, will no longer provide you with the original cashed check at month’s end. However, you can order a copy of a “substitute check” if you need a record.
What are some of the drawbacks to consumers? First, it may not be easy to prove fraud if someone alters your check. Because “substitute checks” are copies, changes made to the original may be harder to detect. Second, you can no longer count on a “float” of a few days between the time you write a check and the time the check clears. This threatens to result in many more “bounced” checks and potentially to huge costs to consumers in overdraft charges.
For more information about Check 21, see the PRC’s Fact Sheet 30: Check 21: Paperless Banking at:
If you opened a new bank account or another type of financial account recently, you may have noticed you had to supply a lot more personal information than in the past. You may have assumed the extra scrutiny was a precaution against the growing crime of identity theft. Not so.
In fact, it’s a provision of the PATRIOT Act that now requires financial institutions to collect additional information from individuals with the intention of undercutting terrorist financing and combating money laundering. The types of financial companies affected by this provision include:
- Commercial and private banks and credit unions.
- Investment companies including brokers and dealers in securities.
- Insurance companies.
- Travel agents.
- Dealers in precious metals.
- Check cashers.
The Customer Identification Program (CIP) Rule requires financial institutions to adopt written procedures to ensure proper identification of new customers who open new accounts.
For more information about CIPs, see the PRC’s Fact Sheet 31: Customer Identification Programs: Getting to Know You at http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs31-CIP.htm
The PRC’s web site has been online, educating consumers about their privacy rights since 1996. The Internet has changed a lot since then, but our web site hadn’t. We recently redesigned the site, making it easier for users to locate information. For instance, we’ve added a FAQ section to help answer some of the more common privacy questions we receive. And, we now provide a weekly Privacy Tip on our home page.
The PRC gratefully acknowledges the Consumer Federation of America (http://www.consumerfed.org) for providing grant funding for redesigning our site.
our information is applicable to consumers nationwide.
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