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Credit-check reference firms

Last weekend’s excellent Radio 4 programme Inside Money highlighted the inadequate level of help and protection given to people suffering from identity theft.

The FSA requires regulated firms to have robust procedures for identity verification and money-laundering checks.

However, a determined fraudster can easily obtain a forged passport and other documents where the quality is so good that even a forensic auditor cannot tell they are forgeries.

No system is perfect but mortgage lenders are increasingly adopting electronic ID verification and although this cannot satisfactorily prove ID in every case, it can do so in around 90 per cent of cases and can be more robust than paper ID verification.

However, when things go wrong, the person whose ID has been stolen has a hard time restoring his credit record.

The credit reference agencies are in a hugely powerful position when it comes to credit-checking but were found badly lacking by Inside Money.

The ID theft victim making the programme with Inside Money, Robert, interviewed a director of Equifax, asking why they did not question information provided by their clients, the providers of credit, after he told them it was inaccurate as a result of his ID being stolen.

The answer was: “When we are processing as many millions of transactions as we are, it would be a very difficult thing to do.”

This is a complete copout. Any company handling “millions of transactions” should be geared up to deal with the queries that are likely to result, especially when it affects people’s creditworthiness.

Experian’s treatment of Robert was no better. He asked their director of consumer affairs: “Would it be a coincidence that Experian have finally responded to my request to remove the false addresses after the BBC got involved?”

After a delay, Experian’s spokeswoman said: “Funnily enough, it is”.

It is unacceptable for Experian to ignore an initial request and then take “a few weeks” after the second letter, as their director admitted, to correct defamatory information on records.

As Robert said: “It might be more than a coincidence that there are two separate companies both saying sorry, both saying that something has gone wrong with their systems. Perhaps both companies need to go back and assess their systems again.”

The FSA says brokers who rely on outsourced information for KFIs must satisfy themselves on the accuracy of that information. As the credit reference agencies do not carry out a regulated activity, the FSA does not regulate them.

Perhaps one way of forcing credit reference agencies to take more responsibility for the information they publish, rather than hiding behind the fact that they are merely publishing information supplied by their customers, would be for the FSA to require lenders to satisfy themselves about the robustness of this outsourced information which is so critical to them.

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