You can find out if a collector has reviewed your credit reports or credit scores by getting your free annual credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. Any request for your report -- or scores -- will be visible on your report. (If you want to see how your collection accounts are impacting your credit scores, you can use a free tool like the Credit Report Card, which shows you two of your credit scores for free and explains the major factors that are helping or hurting you.)
When Bartmann, who is now president of the Center for Consumer Recovery, gathered information about me, he was tapping into just a few of the many databases that collect and sell information about consumers. “As a debt collector you can sign up for a whole litany of services,” he says. “In an era of big data they have gathered all kinds of information about us, some with your permission, sometimes without it.”
Some resources are available for free, such as WhitePages.com, Weiss points out. “Then there are paid compilation services, like when people register for (contests) or change their address.”
LexisNexis Accurint and SearchAmerica are two examples of popular databases Dunn mentioned. Accurint bills itself as a “direct connection to over 37 billion current public records” while SearchAmerica says it provides “a much more accurate model for predicting the likelihood that a consumer will pay their medical bills.”
In addition to checking what’s reported about you at the three major credit reporting agencies for free once a year, you can get free reports about yourself from some other national consumer reporting agencies, if they have data about you. But it would be a tough, and often futile, task to track down all your information from all sources.
Dodging debts? You may want to think twice about posting to social media that picture of the jewelry you just gave your girlfriend. Unless your privacy settings are high, that information may be perused by anyone, including a collector, who may be looking for information about your income, assets or spending patterns.
“Yes, bill collectors do use social media to find their debtors,” says Natasha Carmon, a writer who says she has worked a variety of collection jobs.
“In a divorce case I discovered a wife had obtained a new vehicle through pictures on her Facebook page,” says attorney Tiffany S. Franc. “The vehicle was considered marital property because the parties were still married at the time and it helped my clients negotiating position on other matters at settlement.” She also says she has used LinkedIn profiles to find where debtors are employed in an effort to garnish wages. She goes on to say:
“We peruse Facebook and social media pages and even if the consumer isn't posting about their bank account, they have often times liked their bank's page to indicate to us where they bank. And consumers with assets they really cherish -- collectibles, nice cars, motorcycles, antiques -- oftentimes place pictures of those items on their social media.”
Not all collectors use social media to track down information about debtors. Weiss and Jarman say their firms have made a “business decision” not to, in part due to security concerns. And it’s not clear at the moment what type of social media information collectors can use without violating consumer protection and privacy laws. But for the moment it’s probably safe to say that anything you post is fair game.
Even with all this information available, there’s still some that’s off limit to collectors. “The database I’d love to get ahold of is the Domino’s (Pizza) database,” says Weiss. “Everyone’s in there.”