Imagine that you report to work one day. This day is like any other day, except today you have received an email asking you to report to human resources. You’re a stellar employee, have never been reprimanded, your company is growing, and not looking to downsize. Upon reporting you are quickly escorted to a conference room where termination papers are neatly staked with your name typed on them.
Does this sound like a fictional story, Un-American or so far fetched it couldn’t possibly be accurate? Think again!
Numerous workers in the United States have been snared in a web of inaccurate data. This easily accessible data could not only cost them their jobs, but haunts them and prevents them from obtaining new employment, essentially causing financial ruin.
Every year millions of records are created in the United States. mortgages, deeds, court records and many more documents are public information and easily obtainable. Anyone requesting a file can view it., and they do. Each business day, armed with laptops in hand, abstractors comb through this public information copying it onto their computer to create a database of information. As this data is transcribed human errors result in incomplete information, erroneous data and typos.
The abstractor makes their money by selling this information to a data aggregator. A data aggregator in turn uses the information to create a centralized repository of millions of people in the United States. Each day as we live out our lives we create crumbs of information. These crumbs of data form an endless supply of information which are insignificant when separated, however, become much more valuable as they are pulled together.
How often have you completed things like surveys, contests and warranty cards? Perhaps you have a telephone in your home, use water and electricity or/and have signed up for frequent flyer programs. None of this really matters, as the information comes from a plethora of sources. We all shed bits of information about ourselves as is seems harmless. The danger in small bits of data is created when the information is pulled together. As data is compiled in the aggregator’s system the task of attempting to interrelate the information begins. The attempt to create complete profiles of people results in data that is often inaccurate. This is a result of records belonging to multiple people having been combined into one record or information that is old and should have been deleted, but continues to be reported.
Why would someone go through the trouble of collecting all of this information? Once the pieces if information are compiled, it is worth tens of millions of dollars. This information is then used to create reports that are highly specialized and contain far more information than what would be contained in your credit report. These specialized reports show: lawsuits that you have been involved in; criminal convictions; DUI’s; other arrests; unpaid liens and more. This information, besides being sold to corporate clients, can also be resold to other aggregators.
Here is a minute sample of the types of issues inaccurate data results in:
- A misdemeanor reported as a felony.
- An upstanding citizen with no criminal history reported as having a series of criminal convictions.
One Texas man with no criminal record reported as:
- A female prostitute.
- Wanted in connection for manslaughter.
- A dealer of stolen goods.
- A registered sex offender.
- Wanted in connection with a 6 state crime spree.
At a major drug company hundreds of vendors and workers were dismissed without warning when negative results were reported in an aggregator’s system. This information does not come from a credit file, the victims have no chance to defend themselves or clear their good names. One employee was dismissed for a misdemeanor that had been expunged for several years from court records. However, since data aggregators are unregulated they keep information in their system for as long as they want to report it.
A large percentage of data is not being obtained directly from the source. Therefore, the information is simply inaccurate and yet is passed from the aggregator knowing that companies are going to use this information to make decisions. Beyond the issue of employment, data aggregator information is used for:
- Credit decisions
- Law enforcement
- Megan’s Law reporting
This problem will only get worse, as there is so much data and uses for the information exist throughout all sectors of business. What is even more troubling is that the data aggregators sell information to one another. This process further contaminates the reputations of innocent people among multiple data systems.
Unlike a credit-reporting agency there are no clear-cut policies or procedures to clear up false, inaccurate and slanderous information contained in an aggregators report. It can take years and tens of thousands of dollars to resolve issues from an aggregator. Even after you clear up the issue with one aggregator the problem can resurface with another aggregator since the data had been sold prior to the clean up and is therefore active in someone else’s system.
The number of errors contained in credit reports is estimated to be around 79 percent. Although high, this data is far more accurate since it is transmitted directly from the record holder to the credit agency usually electronically. When data passes through the aggregator it has been scraped, manipulated, sold and resold through multiple hands before being placed in the informational database. If credit data has a high error rate when it has been compiled and passed electronically, can you imagine what the error rate is when it is manually abstracted and passed around?
With a credit reporting agency under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to view your credit report and a process by which to make corrections. However, when the data is coming from an aggregator, they have no obligation to disclose anything. The data aggregator’s are a back office system used by corporations so they remain in a position where they are hidden and rarely disclosed as the source of negative information. Data aggregator’s are quick to point out they provide data, “for informational purposes only.” However, they are aware that the data provided is being used as factual information.
We have all worked with computers for so long that we have developed a mindset that if something comes from my computer it must be accurate. The unfortunate outcome of the data aggregator is that if you’re damaged by faulty data it is going to be a long and arduous task of getting back on track. While you attempt to resolve the faulty data issues you may be denied jobs and housing. Considering the amount of inaccurate information that exists and how more is added each day, losing a job for a criminal conviction, not being able to obtain credit, housing or being arrested for a crime you never committed is a scenario that is not out of the realm of possibility. It could happen to you.