Experian & Equifax Failing to Protect Customers, In Cahoots with Lenders and DCAs?

Experian and Equifax are the 2 largest credit reference agencies. Our latest contact with both these companies over some disputed information leads us to believe they have a total disregard for their customers (who pay them Monthly for the privilege of using their service) and it would appear to me at least, that they are either in collusion with lenders and debt collection companies, or at the very least side with them and ignore any facts when the accuracy of the data they hold is challenged.

The above statement and title about being in collusion is a bit strong, and possibly incorrect? But they really don’t seem to be doing enough to check the information is correct when it’s disputed. Is it just a big boys club with secret handshakes? Or are they here to help when you do see information that’s incorrect?

The customer says it’s wrong, the lender or collection agency says it’s right, so it stays on file, how is that fair if no one “investigates” it to see if it really is correct?

Here is a perfect example of disputed information and NO help from the credit reference agencies, no “investigation” just taking a debt buyers word for it!

We raised a dispute over a default which was placed on a customers file in November 2013 yet backdated to March 2013. For clarification Merligen are a debt buying company, and the original “loan” this refers to was with shoppercheck whom never reported the account at all.

The information commissioners office has a set of technical guidelines in regard to filing defaults for lenders and has information specifically for credit reference agencies to follow. Apparently Experian and Equifax seem to think they don’t have to adhere to these guidelines, and can pretty much do whatever they wish.

Whats The Information Commissioners Office Says:

“Records where the accuracy is challenged can be marked as ‘under query’. This marker alone is unlikely to be sufficient to provide protection against claims, including those for compensation. Agencies should therefore ask the lender to substantiate the disputed information within a reasonable time frame, for example, 28 days, and, if the lender is unable to substantiate the disputed information in that time, should suppress the information from the file.”

The above paragraph seems very easy to understand. The credit reference agency should ask for proof from the lender, if they don’t get it, they should remove the default within a reasonable time frame.

Equifax’s Reply when asked to “substantiate the information” as under these guidelines.

“Dear xxxx

Thank you for getting in touch.

Merligen Investments Ltd has investigated your query and have told Equifax that the information is correct and should remain unchanged.

Response received states: ‘Your account was brought by Merligen Investment Ltd from Shopacheck on the 21-06-2013.’

This information is supplied by the company and we can’t change it without their permission. You should get in touch with the company directly if you need more information.

Website www.merligen.com

The note that we added, stating that your information was in dispute will be removed within 24 hours.

You’ll find more information about your credit report at: www.equifax.co.uk/help. If you have a question, you should find the answer in our FAQ section. If not, you can send us an online query, and attach your documents to it – no need to worry about them getting lost or delayed in the post.

I hope you find this useful. If there’s anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

Kind regards

Equifax Customer Services”

This seems to be a complete fob off, a standard reply but with a quote they received from merligen, is that the proof they need to keep this on file? A lack of due diligence by equifax in regard to the information. Basically they asked Merligen if it was correct, Merligen said YES, equifax said ok. What has that done to substantiate the disputed information?

We of course reopened the dispute and stated the guidelines laid out by the ICO for credit reference agencies which according to equifax, they don’t have to listen to anyway their reply to that is below:

“I note your comments about the quoted sections from the Information Commissioner’s Office default guidelines; however, the notice of dispute process used by Equifax and the other credit reference agencies has been created in conjunction with the Information Commissioner’s Office and has been accepted by them as being in line with the Data Protection Act and any other relevant guidelines. The dispute process asks the supplying organisation to investigate the accuracy of the information they have supplied to Equifax. This process is considered sufficient to ensure compliance with these guidelines and does not require the company to provide documentary evidence in support of the dispute response.”

At this point I will say that Merligen cannot have investigated the account, We know they did not at that time have any paperwork for account in question, so equifax just take their word for it. Does that seem fair?

Experian’s Reply to the Same Disputed Information:

Experian were just as disappointing if not more so when it came to raising the dispute. At the time of writing I am still waiting for a further response but it made me feel quite sick to the stomach when we got the below reply from experian:

“All of our clients sign up to strict terms and conditions which stipulate that they must only provide us with information that is compliant with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Companies are also aware that if they do not comply with the relevant legislation this could threaten their licence to trade so it is not in their best interests to supply data to us that is inaccurate.

We have asked Merligen to provide further clarification to their response and they have advised the following:

“This account is not settled, it has an outstanding balance of £665.40. Miss XXXXX needs to contact Moriarty Law on 0845 218 2021 who are acting on our behalf to set up a payment plan.”

We are unable to arbitrate in a dispute between yourself and Merligen Investments.”

So Experian asked Merligen to provide further clarification, and they have provided no proof just quoted an outstanding balance, and a telephone number for a law firm to set up a payment plan on a debt that doesn’t exist. That is simply not acceptable, not impartial, and would appear to be proof of the lenders / debt buyers / collection companies / credit reference agencies and all in this together!

Experian should NOT have passed that information with telephone number on to a customer. It could easily be seen as advice from the so called “credit expert” service, and would have been the entirely wrong thing to contact anyone about this disputed debt.

A further email from Experian after asking how they “investigate” or “substantiate” the information the lender has provided when it’s disputed by the customer reveled the truth

“Because the lenders agree to our terms and conditions of providing us with accurate information, if we query information on a credit report and the lender comes back to advise the information is correct then we accept the lenders decision as it is not in the lenders interest to provide us with inaccurate information.”

So all lenders, debt buying companies, and debt collection agencies all tell the truth, and never make a mistake? We can already prove that Merligen themselves had no paperwork for the account when we asked for it to be queried,  so how can experian take their word for it, if they have no clue themselves?

What we are doing next to sort out this default marker

We have now filed a complaint with the ICO about the credit reference agencies and merligen. We have issued a County Court Claim to have the default removed and claim compensation from Merligen. The same Court action will be taken against the credit reference agencies unless the ICO steps in and sorts out the whole situation.

With Merligen themselves they did send “proof” of the account to us after Months of asking, they stated they have just received the information from the original lender in late February 2014 (so how did they know it was real?) copies of the documents they have sent are below.

I must add the account holder does say she possibly did have a shoppercheck account in the past, but if she did this is certainly NOT it. This account has missed payments for almost 3 Years giving us a lot of ammunition to have the default removed/amended.

The customer used to live in an area where the homes were targeted by these door stop lenders at times of the Year most likely to temp people into borrowing. Before and just after Christmas, Easter, Summer and before kids go back to school. All times when it’s likely people are struggling to make end meet!

There is blank information on the “application for credit” including a blank amount applied for, and no signatures on the credit agreement form by either the customer or anyone from Shoppercheck, we do suspect a bit of fraud with this one!

Below is the unsigned agreement they provided as proof of the account.

unsigned shoppercheck credit agreement