If you’re a celebrity, politician, or otherwise in the public eye, you may be on VIP lists maintained by the credit reporting bureaus, granting you a different level of customer service. According to lawyers who have sworn testimony from employees, this two-tiered system favors the well-connected by granting them access to immediate corrections on erroneous reports, unlike most customers whose requests are handled by automated systems.
Though some credit reporting agencies are denying this list exists, consumer advocates seem to have proof that the best customer service is reserved for those whose credit reports are deemed to require more accuracy by the bureaus. For the rest of us:
Their complaints are often electronically ferried to a subcontractor overseas, where a worker spends, on average, about two minutes figuring out the gist of the matter, boiling it down to a one-to-three-digit computer code that signifies the problem — “account not his/hers,” for example — and sending a dispute form to the creditor to investigate… Consumers who have trouble fixing errors through the dispute process can quickly find themselves trapped in a Kafkaesque no man’s land, where the only escape is through the court system.
Charging a higher fee for better customer service is a legitimate way of operating, although some might argue that even this method of operation unfairly discriminates against those who can’t afford the service. Despite some objections, offering VIP service to anyone who pays for it is usually justified. But in this case, VIP service is not differentiated by cost.
Credit reporting is something most people cannot opt out of — without major changes to their finances that involve never using debt of any sort, including a mortgage. Credit reports and credit scores are services for businesses researching individuals, not for individuals, so the companies’ first priority is serving their real customers — those who pay for access to other people’s reports and scores. The credit reports and scores in the systems are commodities, being purchased by companies evaluating creditworthiness or other factors.
It’s in a credit reporting bureau’s best interest to provide accurate data, because if they didn’t people deemed creditworthy would end up as bad customers for the agency’s clients at a higher rate. There is a threshold, however, at which point the cost of ensuring accuracy outweighs the benefit of increasing that accuracy. From a business standpoint, “accurate enough” is all that is necessary to maintain happy customers, so the bureaus can find a way to limit service to the secondary customers whose only concern is the accuracy of their personal data.
Published or updated May 16, 2011.