- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

A few weeks ago, I relayed a personal story about an unfortunate incident regarding my credit report. I was turned down for a home equity line of credit due to a low credit score. After pulling my own report through my mortgage company, I discovered that one of the national repositories, TransUnion LLC, had mistakenly associated my Social Security number with a cab driver from Southern California (who happened to have bad credit).

In summary, I had the problem resolved within 24 hours, but not until I pulled out my ace of spades and told them I was a newspaper columnist who focuses on consumer advocacy issues. That got their attention. Apparently, two of the digits in my Social Security number somehow got transposed, which created the mess.

Unfortunately, I now have another story to tell concerning business credit reports. I’m learning a lot, and it’s scary. While this is a bit out of the scope of residential mortgages, it’s pretty important, as there are a lot of small businesses in America.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from my insurance agent, who tells me that a random credit check of my company revealed that my business score plunged from a 97 to a 60 out of a total of 100 points. Two companies, Dun & Bradstreet Corp. and Experian, reported the low score as a result of my company’s payment history to two vendors.

Specifically, I was told that a vendor in the office equipment sector and a vendor in the data processing sector reported their bills paid by my company as being 60 days late.

Needless to say, I was shocked. My bookkeeper pays all bills every two weeks. We’ve never had a late notice or a late fee.

Even more peculiar was the fact that I couldn’t think of any service that my company uses that involves data processing. And the only computer equipment that we pay for on a monthly basis is a large photocopy and scanning machine.

My insurance agent tells me that I must deal directly with Dun & Bradstreet (D&B;) and Experian. You can imagine the first question I had once I contacted them:

What are the companies that are reporting late payments? The answer is the same from both credit companies: They can’t tell me without getting permission.

Say what? I seek clarification.

A vendor tells D&B; and Experian that PMC Mortgage isn’t paying bills on time. D&B; and Experian take this information and effectively ruin my company’s credit rating.

I, as the owner of PMC Mortgage, ask to be informed as to which companies are reporting late payments. D&B; and Experian refuse to release the information to me, due to “contractual obligations.”

Only if the vendors allow D&B; and Experian to release their names can a company with reported bad credit be informed of its accuser.

“The customer relations team will contact the vendors first thing Monday morning to dispute the information and ask their permission to reveal their identity to you,” said an Experian representative via e-mail. “This process will be completed within 10 days maximum. Experian’s policies and contractual obligations prevent us from revealing the identity of data-suppliers without their express permission.”

As I see this, which was confirmed through a telephone conversation with a representative from D&B;, any vendor can lower the credit rating of a company and be completely shielded from consequences if the information is inaccurate. The agency reporting the information is shielded from any mistakes on its part. Any company that challenges the information is helpless to face an accuser without legal action.

As of this writing, D&B; has raised my rating back to 93 and taken off the elusive vendors who ruined my credit. I’m still waiting an answer from Experian.

Businesses have far less protection than consumers. Lawyers, care to comment? I’ll gladly write about a side of this issue that I can’t see, if there is one.

Henry Savage is president of PMC Mortgage in Alexandria. Reach him at henrysavage@pmcmortgage.com.

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