Consumer reporting agencies (commonly known as "credit reporting agencies" or "credit bureaus") provide consumer reports (commonly known as "credit reports") to subscribers who use the information to make credit granting decisions. In order to obtain a consumer report, the agencies require their subscribers (i.e. banks, department stores, insurance companies and others) to furnish the name and address for the person on whom they are inquiring. Some agencies, such as Trans Union, also encourage subscribers to provide a consumer's social security number as well. At any given time, the national consumer reporting agencies maintain hundreds of millions of "credit files" in their databases. A credit file contains indicative information (such as name, address, former address, social security number and other information) and individual trade lines (such as account number, credit terms, payment history and other items) belonging to the consumer. These files relate to the credit active consumers across the United States of which there are approximately 250 million, meaning that many consumers have more than one file in a consumer reporting agency's system.
One reason why the consumer reporting agencies may have more than one credit file on a particular consumer is because the agencies may not have enough information to say with the highest degree of certainty that each of the credit files should "merge." The agencies build files from information that they receive from credit grantors. They do not deal directly with the consumers. However, different creditors' records do not always identify the same consumer in the same way. For example, consumers may use two or more names in their credit activities (such as nick names, maiden and married names, names with and without generational suffixes). Consumers may have two or more addresses (such as home/school, work/home or vacation or second homes). Creditor's records may misspell or invert letters in names, street addresses or social security numbers. Therefore, information coming into an agency's database from different sources does not always perfectly match.
Applying proprietary business rules, an agency's database will not merge two credit files until the indicative information scores one of the highest match threshold levels. An consumer reporting agency's rules are actually bias against merging files that do not meet the highest level of match logic because the agencies believe that more harm is done to a consumer if wrong information is merged onto a consumer's file than if a consumer's credit history is reported in two or more separate files. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Nonetheless, Trans Union also recognizes that a consumer can be disadvantaged if too little information is provided. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Trans Union therefore looks for ways to add to existing information to improve match scores. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Trans Union also has procedures to present multiple files that match inquiries in a way that is accurate and not misleading.
2. POSSIBLE FILES
When Trans Union receives an inquiry from a credit grantor, it searches the database for the file or files that most closely match the indicative information in the inquiry. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Trans Union applies various criteria to cull out obviously incorrect files and applies weighted scores to match the indicative information on a file with that of the inquiry. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Only those files which score above a set threshold are eligible for return. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Trans Union then applies reduction logic to the selected files to ensure that there are no obvious reasons to suspect that any of the selected files are not the correct ones for return. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. If more than one file remains for return on an inquiry, Trans Union will examine the files again to determine whether they meet a high enough threshold of similarity to be merged into a single file for presentation to the creditor or whether they should be presented as two discrete files. Roman. Aff. ¶ X.
The dilemma with the electronic sorting of the millions of bits of credit information derived from varied sources is that when there are enough similarities to suspect that multiple files might belong to the same person, it could be misleading or inaccurate to present only one of these files to the credit grantor because it deprives the consumer and the creditor of an enriched file history. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. The creditor, however, who is currently involved in the transaction with the consumer, is in a position to obtain any additional identifying information that may be necessary to make a proper selection among the several possible files that may be returned to determine if they do indeed relate to the same consumer. Roman. Aff. ¶ X.
Trans Union has procedures to present more than one file in response to an inquiry that also alerts the creditor to the fact that the separate files may belong to different individuals. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. For example, Trans Union marks the second or "POSSIBLE" files with a "TRANS ALERT" message which tells the subscriber that the file's address or social security number or other identifying information does not perfectly match the inquiry. Roman. Aff. ¶ X. Each individual file is concluded with a line which reads "END OF CREDIT REPORT" and another line that reads "POSSIBLE ADDITIIONAL CONSUMER FILES TO FOLLOW". Roman. Aff. ¶ X.