Sure, that’s what they all say.
But in Chaz Epps’ case, it’s true, even though a credit reporting agency doesn’t believe it.
Last spring, Epps decided to find a new apartment. He researched and asked around, and he found the complex he wanted to call home.
“It’s in a very quiet neighborhood, very well maintained,” said Epps, 30, who studies criminal justice at Berkeley College.
The Navy veteran, who served three tours in Iraq, gave a rental agency $245 for an application fee and partial down payment. There would also be a background check.
No problem, thought Epps.
He was wrong.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I knew that I have good credit.”
He soon received a letter and a copy of the report from Screening Reports, Inc., a specialty credit reporting company based in Wood Dale, Ill.
“It stated that I was a felon and that was the reason for my denial,” Epps said.
Epps realized his identity was mistaken with that of his younger brother, who did have a criminal record. Epps said his brother used his name several times when Epps was in Iraq, and apparently, it stuck in the records as an alias.
The letter offered a web site and telephone number to dispute the report.
“I have no criminal record, so I proceeded to contact the agency, first by e-mail, and after a three-day period with no response, per their web site’s instructions, I then called the business,” he said.
The dispute department’s case manager said she’d look into it.
At the manager’s request, Epps emailed copies of his driver’s license, birth certificate and other documents to prove this was an ID switcheroo.
After a week with no response, Epps called the manager.
“[She said] after a review of my file that there was in fact an error made on the company’s part and that the problem would be rectified and to call back a day later,” Epps said.
But when he called again, the manager said Epps would need documentation from a court or police department proving his innocence before the report could be corrected.
Epps contacted police, which confirmed his record was clean, but said they couldn’t print out a record that didn’t exist.
He said police told him the company must have just done some kind of cursory search. Had it done an expansive search, it would have been clear that Epps didn’t have a record.
Epps called the company again.
“I said, ‘It’s your job to fix it. You’re the reporting agency. It’s not on the police,’” he said.
The company did nothing, Epps said.
Epps filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. No luck there. Screening Reports already had an “F” rating because it didn’t respond to eight previous complaints. Epps’ made it nine.
Epps hasn’t yet heard back.
“[Screening Reports] would still not change the decision even though they were at fault,” Epps said in an email to Bamboozled. “Can you help me?”
CHECKING EVERYONE OUT
Before taking on Epps’ case, we wanted to make sure that indeed, he was not a felon.
And he’s not.
But his brother’s records do come up when Epps’ name is searched.
The men share the same last name, and “Chaz Epps” appears as an alias on his brother’s record. They also share the same birthday, but a different birth year.
The other Epps, from 2006 through 2011 — when Chaz Epps was overseas — was charged with six misdemeanors and 10 felonies. All but one charge — unlawful possession of a deadly weapon — were dismissed as part of a plea deal, public records show.
The closest brush with the law on Chaz Epps’ record is a traffic ticket.
Their Social Security numbers are different, too.
Screening Reports, Inc.’s record isn’t as clean as Chaz Epps’.
In addition to the BBB rating, there have been several lawsuits against the company.
In one ongoing case in Georgia, a consumer said Screening Reports violated his rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
“They had reported inaccurate criminal history about him, and also, when he asked for his file, they didn’t give him all the information that they had in their database about him,” said John Soumilas, an attorney with Francis & Mailman in Philadelphia, which brought the case.
Last month, a judge shot down Screening Reports’ motion to dismiss the case.
Soumilas is seeking class action status for the suit, which the attorney said could involve as many as 2,800 consumers. That decision is pending.
We called Screening Reports, but it declined to discuss the case for “privacy reasons.”
We asked for an e-mail address where we could send it questions about FCRA.
“We are going to look into this,” said the rep, who hung up before we could get her name or an e-mail address.
Within a few hours, Epps’ phone rang. It was Screening Reports.
“She’s like, ‘What happened to that paperwork?” and then Epps said he reminded her of their past communications.
The rep said she’d talk to her supervisor and call back.
Several days passed and Epps didn’t hear anything, so he e-mailed his contact at Screening Reports again.
“Per our conversation on 10/15/2013 I reiterated that we need a letter or some type of document from NJ courthouse that will clear your name of these charges,” the rep responded.
We gave Epps some questions to ask the company, and he wrote again to the rep.
He wrote: “1) FCRA says you have 30 days to investigate and correct, or remove, the information. The responsibility is yours, not mine. Please show me the law that says this is my responsibility? 2) What entity gave you the criminal history information? It’s wrong and I want to correct it directly with them, too.”
The rep responded without answering his questions, saying the crimes listed on the report would remain, and suggesting he contact police or an attorney for further assistance.
We double-checked the law with Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com.
She said yes, under FCRA, it’s the responsibility of the reporting company to confirm information, and the depth of the “investigation” is often what comes up in consumer FCRA lawsuits.
“It’s maddening and it happens to consumers often,” Detweiler said. “They are battling for years to correct it. The next step would be to talk with a consumer law attorney.”
Before he takes that step, we suggested Epps make one last-ditch effort to clear his own name. He can ask police for what’s called a “good conduct” letter. Perhaps that would satisfy Screening Reports — even though the law says it’s not Epps’ responsibility to do so.
He said he hopes the agency will fix the mistakes, and the rental agency will reconsider him.
“They said it’s a nonrefundable deposit, and I’d still like to live there,” he said. “It’s not fair. I don’t have a criminal record.”
We’ll let you know what happens.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
If you’re ever turned down for credit, housing or a job because of information that’s on your credit report, you’re due a free copy of the report.
All consumers are entitled to one free copy of their credit reports every 12 months. That’s not just for the three big credit bureaus, but for specialty credit reporting agencies, too.
While you’re able to get your three major reports from one source —annualcreditreport.com — requests for free reports from the specialty companies must be made directly to those companies.
FTC regulations don’t require specialty reporting agencies to offer reports through a web site or by written request, but they are required to offer a toll-free number to consumers.
If you find an error, under FCRA, the credit agency has 30 days investigate and to notify you of its findings, and make the fix, if warranted. (It has 45 days if the error was found on an annual free credit report.)
To make sure the fix stays fixed, contact the lender or agency that shared the wrong information with the credit agency in the first place. Do it in writing. You want to make sure the error isn’t reported again in the future.
The CFPB believed strongly enough that specialty reporting agencies weren’t always following the rules that it issued a bulletin last year to remind the companies that they must give consumers an easy way to get a free copy of their specialty reports.
You can learn more about your rights to these reports at the FTC’s web site.