If you’re having trouble getting a loan (or even a job), you may be one of the 25 percent of Americans with false information on your credit report.
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver continues to skewer outrageous business practices. Of course, most people have heard that credit reporting agencies aren’t very good at what they do — as Oliver shows, they never have been, with reports going back decades that as many as one third of consumer credit reports contain serious errors.
But Oliver goes beyond simply articulating the weakness of the reports — he shows how seriously banks and even potential potential employers treat credit reports when making lending and hiring decisions. The moral of the report is that you cannot wait until you’re thinking of buying your first house or car to check your credit report; by then it’s too late. Anyone who is even looking for a new job should know what their potential boss may see when they run a report. The name of one man, Ahmet Patel, matched that of a potential criminal, so a credit reporting agency labelled him a “terrorist” in a file sent to a potential employer. Needless to say, he was not hired.
As much as 47 percent of employers conduct credit reports on potential employees, and so any error, let alone the outrageous situations Oliver highlights, could lead to major disadvantages. (For the record, there are laws on the books in these states that outlaw checking credit as part of the interview process: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.)
Approximately five percent of reports contain errors significant enough to possibly warrant denying a loan application, but there are lots of ways those mistakes can arise. Even a member of Oliver’s own staff who purchased his credit report for the segment found an agency “pending verification” that he had committed medicare fraud in Florida. It has since been removed.
Oliver was rightfully outraged by the excesses of the industry, particularly one trade group touting the five percent error rate as indicating that credit reports are, in general, “accurate.”
“But when you are holding records for more than 200 million Americans, that five percent error rate affects 10 million people,” Oliver says. “They’re basically saying, ‘Great news, everyone. We only fucked up a group equivalent to the entire population of Sweden. We’re the fucking greatest.’”
And in typical Last Week Tonight fashion, Oliver wasn’t about to leave it there. He wanted to give credit reporting agencies a taste of their own medicine. If they don’t mind botching five percent of all reports, then presumably it wouldn’t be a problem if five percent of people confuse the three major firms, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for less reputable versions of themselves.
So Oliver and his staff created websites for Equifacks, Experianne and TamsOnion, three companies that may sounds like credit reporting agencies but just aren’t quite. Equifacks “takes shelter animals to customer’s homes, where the animals lick peanut butter off peoples’ genitals before being immediately returned to the shelter.” Experianne whispers passages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf into the ears of unsuspected babies without the babies’ or parents’ consent. And TramsOnion.com sells “these delicious-looking steaks made from the flesh of dead orcas who worked at SeaWorld.”
As Oliver puts it, “I’m sure it would be a disaster for the credit agencies if they were mistaken for any of these companies, but don’t worry, I’m sure that won’t happen 95 percent of the time.”