Car dealer pulling credit report multiple times

February 18, 2014 20:31 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I am shopping for a new car. I specifically told the sales rep at the dealership to only check my credit one time. After running my credit report, the sales rep came back with a deal that was not good, i.e. the interest rate was too high.  I declined the offer and left. I've since discovered that the dealership checked my credit 12 times and may be continuing to do so.  This has already hurt my credit rating. I feel this is deliberate retaliation for declining their offer. What can I do?

Consumer Ed Says:

It's very important to monitor requests for your credit report. These requests are recorded on your credit reporting file, and multiple creditor requests can negatively impact your credit score. You can easily check to see who has pulled your credit report by looking at the "Inquiries" section of your credit report.

Federal law strictly limits when and how a consumer's credit report can be released to others. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a consumer report can only be released to another person or entity for limited permissible purposes that are spelled out in the law. For example, a credit reporting agency can furnish your credit report if you give written approval for the report to be released to a business; a creditor can access your credit report when you apply for credit; a collection agency can check it when attempting to collect a debt; insurance companies can pull your report to underwrite your insurance; and employers may access your report if they have your permission.   In order to access your credit report, a business must certify to the credit reporting agency that it is obtaining and using the credit report for a permissible purpose under the FCRA. A person who knowingly accesses your credit report under false pretenses can be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a car dealer does not have a permissible purpose to get your credit report if you're simply asking for information about vehicles and prices, or if you just take a car out for a test drive--because at that point you haven't initiated any transaction.

In your case, it sounds like you gave the dealer verbal permission to pull your credit report. So to the extent you allowed it to check your report so that the salesperson could make you an offer, you initiated a transaction with the dealership, and the dealer had a legitimate reason to pull the report--one time. However, once you declined the dealer's offer and left the dealership, the dealer no longer had a permissible purpose to check your report - it didn't have your written approval to do so, and you were no longer considering purchasing a vehicle at that dealership.

If you become aware that your credit report has been obtained outside of the FCRA guidelines, you have several options. Specifically, you can do one or more of the following:

  • Contact the business pulling your report, notify them that you do not believe they have a permissible purpose for accessing your report and request that they stop.      
  • Contact the three major credit reporting agencies to notify them that a business has been accessing your credit file without a permissible purpose.
    • For Equifax, contact: Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, Georgia 30348.
    • For TransUnion, you can request consumer support by visiting: www.transunion.com/personal-credit/customer-support/request-customer-support.page.
    • For Experian: Experian requests that you first obtain a copy of your Experian credit report by visiting Experian online or by calling 1-888-397-3742. Once you have your Experian personal credit report, contact the number displayed on the report for assistance.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commissionby going to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; or 
  • Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by visiting www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/, clicking on "Credit reporting" and following the instructions provided.

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Can employer refuse to hire me if I don't consent to a credit check?

December 19, 2013 19:52 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

At a job interview I was asked if I would give my permission for the company to pull my credit report.  I know my credit is not very good, so I did not consent to this.  Now I'm concerned that refusing might cost me this job.  Can a company deny someone employment on this basis?

Consumer Ed Says:

Yes, an employer can deny employment based either on your refusal to let it see your credit report, or on the contents of the credit report itself.  In 2012, a bill was introduced in Georgia to prevent employers from firing, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating against someone because of his or her credit report, but the bill didn't pass.

This isn't to say that an employer can look at your credit report without your permission-it can't.  But an estimated 60% of employers perform credit checks.  Commonly, employers are looking for signs of irresponsibility, and some are worried about the potential for employee theft (although this is more common in fields like banking and finance).  Employers may also be concerned that an employee's worries about his/her debt will have an impact on job performance.  This concern is unfortunate, since many recently laid-off people have fallen behind on their bill payments precisely because their income has decreased.  Many employers consider an applicant's credit history because they are looking for a pattern showing that the applicant is able to pay, and actually does pay his or her debts, as a sign that the employee is a responsible person.

An employer must receive your written permission before it can obtain a copy of your credit report; this permission must be in its own document separate from any employment contract.   Giving this permission may give you some anxiety, especially if you know you have some negative credit history.  However, this might be a good time for you to go ahead and explain any negative information in your credit report.  You need to remember that if you don't give your permission, the employer is likely to (and is allowed to) reject your application on that ground. One caveat:  If you're applying to jobs over the internet, do not give your credit report out.  These requests are scams; any legitimate business can obtain credit reports from the major credit bureaus, and doesn't need for you to provide that information through a website.

If you give permission for the employer to look at your credit report, and it rejects your job application based on your credit, federal law requires that employer to notify you of this reason, and show you the report.  You can then obtain a copy from the reporting agency for free within 60 days of such notice from the employer.  If you find errors in the report, see www.consumer.ftc.gov for information about how to address this problem.

If you suspect your credit history is hampering your job search, here are some tips to help improve it:

 

  • Make a budget. Live within or, if you can, below your means.  Incorporate late bill payments into your budget.
  • If you have been denied credit, you may request a free credit report.  Learn why you were denied credit.  If you find any errors, contact the reporting agency to dispute the information-they must correct errors.
  • Make a list of what and to whom you owe.  Contact creditors to discuss payment options and begin catching up with late payments.
  • Look for ways to combine bills.  This may include transferring a credit card balance to another credit card with a lower interest rate while simultaneously reducing the number of credit cards you have.
  • Look for ways to decrease your spending.
  • Look for ways to increase your income.
  • Do not use credit until you have paid off most, or all, of your debt. Consider cancelling or hiding your credit cards for this period of time. 

 

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Negative Option Marketing

November 12, 2013 19:34 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I signed up for a free trial of an online sports subscription, and a month later I was billed for it and had to call to cancel. The same thing happened to me with a credit monitoring service.  Fortunately, I caught it on my bank statement right away, but what if I hadn't? Are businesses allowed to automatically bill you every month after the free trial period is up?

Consumer Ed Says:

The two situations you have described are examples of so-called "negative option" plans. In a negative option plan, goods or services are provided to the buyer automatically unless, like you did, the buyer tells the seller that they don't want them. More specifically, your examples are of negative option plans in the form of a free trial offer, which are very common.

The legality of this practice depends on the terms and conditions of the particular plan, and on how the seller discloses these terms and conditions to the buyer. Under the Federal Trade Commission's Negative Option Rule, which the State of Georgia has adopted, the seller must disclose the following terms to you in a clear and conspicuous manner:

  • The fact that the offer is a negative option plan
  • Minimum purchase requirements, if any
  • Cancellation Rights
  • Refusal Rights
  • Postage charges, if any

If a business doesn't comply with the Negative Option Rule, the consumer isn't obligated to pay for the products or services associated with the contract.

If you were enrolled in a negative option plan without your knowledge, and the terms and conditions of the plan were not described in a clear and conspicuous manner, you may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting ftc.gov or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); or the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection by visiting our website at www.consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600.

Consumers who believe that they weren't appropriately notified of the negative option billing should also consider consulting a private attorney to discuss their situation.

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