An Opaque Web of Credit Reports Is Tracking Everything You Do

Liam Downey remembers the first time he heard about ChexSystems. It was December 2021, not long after he moved to Mancos, Colorado, a tiny mountain hamlet with a population under 1,500.

The only bank in town had just barred the 52-year-old flight paramedic from opening an account because his so-called ChexSystems score was too low. The teller gave him the contact information of the agency but not much else. He walked out of the bank perplexed.

ChexSystems, as Downey would soon find out, is a national consumer reporting agency — abbreviated CRA — that specializes in gathering data on how Americans use checks and bank accounts. It distills this information into a score similar to a credit score. Some 80% of banks rely on such information to screen people who want to open new accounts.

On a scale of 100 to 899, Downey’s ChexSystems score was 553. As far as the sole bank in Mancos was concerned, those three digits — regardless of his 15-year-long relationship with his current out-of-state bank — meant he was too risky to take on as a customer.

“I think this is complete nonsense,” Downey says of the reporting system. “People don’t even recognize it exists. It’s not easy to interpret, it’s not easy to change, and it’s completely arbitrary.”

Critics of ChexSystems note the agency generally tracks only negative information like account closures and overdrafts, essentially making it a bank-account rap sheet. The company is just one of a large — and largely unknown — sum of CRAs that actively monitors the financial and nonfinancial behavior of more than 200 million Americans, including many children.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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