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Credit Reporting Service Admits Errors, Offers Free Credit Reports

October 15, 1991

WOODSTOCK, Vt. (AP) _ The Cabot and Camp families have run a funeral home in a big old Victorian house on the village green since 1917. They buried President Calvin Coolidge, a native of nearby Plymouth Notch, in 1933.

And, say family members and the town manager, they pay their taxes promptly. But it took some work to convince TRW Inc. of that.

Cleveland-based TRW, the nation’s largest keeper of credit reports, admitted on Monday that it had erroneous tax information on some 1,500 consumers in New Hampshire and Vermont - including the funeral home.

And it agreed to give consumers around the country free copies of their credit reports, which normally cost up to $20. Details of how consumers will be able to obtain the free reports will be announced before the end of the year, TRW said.

TRW, Trans Union Corp. of Chicago and Equifax Inc. of Atlanta are the giants of the billion-dollar industry, maintaining credit histories on 170 million Americans. Trans Union and Equifax said Monday they would not provide free reports to consumers.

″Accuracy is obviously very important to us because if our database is inaccurate, we do not have a product to sell,″ said TRW spokeswoman Susan Murdy said. ″Inaccurate data does not benefit anyone.″

Critics say inaccurate data is exactly what is being provided to banks, credit card companies and other businesses across the country. Fourteen states are suing TRW over allegedly false credit reports.

The Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is to begin hearings Wednesday on cleaning up the industry. According to a federal report, 9,000 consumers complained last year about inaccurate credit ratings, up 50 percent from the year before.

Dwight Cabot Camp said he learned of the bad report when he applied for a loan to expand the funeral parlor’s chapel and garage. Mike Schmell at the Bank of Woodstock pretty much approved the loan over the telephone but had to wait for the paperwork to give the final OK.

″We’re 99 percent done putting this addition on the funeral home,″ Camp said. ″Now it’s time to pay the builder. Mike calls up from the bank and says they’re putting the paperwork through, they’ve got a credit report that says we haven’t paid our (property) taxes in four or five years.″

Camp said he asked Schmell why, if the business was so far behind in its taxes, Town Manager Phil Swanson ″isn’t up here in a black suit, owning a funeral home?″

Two phone calls and minutes later, the loan was approved. That’s the way business is done in a small Vermont town where everbody knows one another.

But changing the credit report was another matter. Swanson tried to trace the error. He called TRW in Dallas, where the bank said it got the report.

Dallas referred him to Austin, Texas, which referred him to Utah, which referred him to someplace in the Carolinas, which referred him to Connecticut and ″finally I gave up,″ Swanson said.

In Vermont, 650 errors in Woodstock, and faulty reports on every property owner in the town of Norwich, have been blamed on a TRW subcontractor, National Data Retrieval Inc. of Norcross, Ga.

The Vermont attorney general’s office and town and company officials concluded that NDR improperly recorded tax bills as tax liens.

Murdy said that TRW has terminated its relationship with NDR and that tax information from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island has been stricken from TRW’s records.

No problems have been reported with data from Maine and Rhode Island. But all the information was removed because NDR supplied data for all four states, said TRW consumer affairs director Marty Abrams.