by Jeff Sovern
For the credit reporting section of our casebook, I've been looking into studies of credit report errors. The FTC is in the process of conducting a long-term study of that subject, and along the way has conducted some pilot studies. One such pilot study subjected the credit reports of 128 people to in-depth review. Though 88 reports did not contain errors, 40 consumers found alleged mistakes they wanted to dispute, of which 15 were material. The researchers assisted the consumers claiming material errors to complain to credit bureaus, and 12 did so. Of those, the requested changes were made in seven cases, and partly made in three others. In two cases, no changes were made. The pilot study is probably too small to draw conclusions about how common credit report errors are, though the final FTC study should not suffer from that weakness, and other studies have also been larger. The thing that caught my eye about this study was that not all the consumers with material errors were willing to complain about them to credit bureaus, even when they had assistance in doing so. Again, 15 consumers is too small a sample size to conclude much, but the study does make me wonder how many consumers don't bother complaining about errors, especially when they don't have assistance. An ample literature on consumer complaining behavior makes clear that many consumers don't complain about issues (the classic article is Best & Andreason, Consumer Response to Unsatisfactory Purchases: A Survey of Perceiving Defects, Voicing Complaints, and Obtaining Redress, 11 Law & Soc. Rev. 701 (1977)), and it seems entirely plausible that it is no different for credit reports for at least some consumers.