A Black entrepreneur and credit expert is suing the three major credit bureaus and a bank for purposely “altering, fabricating and destroying” his lifelong excellent credit profile by removing most of his excellent credit history and thus reducing his access to loans, he argues.
In the United States, credit is a gateway to home and car ownership as well as financing small businesses which are the backbone of the United States economy. It’s been a way for upward mobility for over 100 years and thus, the credit bureaus hold enormous power over the success of average citizens. Dr. Michael C. Grayson, CEO of The Credit and Debt Management Institute, says credit bureaus have been abusing their power.
Dr. Grayson filed a lawsuit on March 10, 2023, against Equifax, Experian, Transunion and First National Bank of Omaha accusing them of “engaging in a scam to create financial problems for people with perfect credit.” He has a separate lawsuit against Equifax by themselves in New York. “But in Tennessee, I started a $1 billion action against all three of them because now I understand the totality of their crime,” he said.
“The goal,” states the lawsuit filed by Dr. Grayson—who is representing himself in court—“is to enslave the consumer in a system of debt while their subscribers reap a multi-trillion dollar windfall. I’m not an attorney and I don’t have an attorney on this case. I wanna prove that the average person can still win if you got God on your side and you are right. That is what I believe. … So, it is in their interest to defeat me because once I win this case, I’ve set a precedent that everybody can use.”
American consumers pay $120 billion in credit card interest and fees each year, reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “At almost a trillion dollars outstanding, credit cards are the largest consumer lending product by number of users—over 175 million consumers have at least one credit card—and one of the largest sources of consumer debt.
This lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court of Hardeman County, Tennessee in the 25th Judicial District at Bolivar began after Dr. Grayson noticed that his credit score was dropping. “I try to keep my credit score 850 at all times but it fluctuates. Back in 2014, I had an identity theft situation. I disputed it with the credit bureaus and two of the bureaus took it off of my credit immediately, but Equifax for some reason decided they weren’t gonna remove it no matter what,” said Dr. Grayson. “I’m in the credit business. I’m one of the best at what I do. Every time I call them, they gave me a different excuse why they haven’t removed it.”
From 2018 to 2020, CFPB estimates that Americans paid roughly $120 billion per year in credit card interest and fees. That works out to about $1,000 per year for every American household. What Dr. Grayson wants people to see is that it’s not just people with bad credit that are getting fleeced, but people with good credit as well because consumers are unaware of the zero-point conversion option which would save you some $12,000 per year. “Once you hit 700, once you hit 800 you’re supposed to contact them (your car insurance company for example) and say, hey, this is my new credit score. Please give me the new rate.”
This should be done with all your creditors, he explains. If your score drops, they often automatically raise your rates, but when your score improves, they don’t automatically lower your interest. You have to call it in, he explains. It will save many consumers a great deal of money, he stated. “If you haven’t done zero-point conversion, you don’t have good credit, you still have bad credit (because) you are paying rates of somebody that has 600.”
Dr. Grayson, whose professional career includes 20 years working as a credit industry insider, at first was baffled that after all these years and with so much new technology the companies can’t get it right. It’s been over 100 years. Atlanta-based Retail Credit Company (RCC) was the first credit bureau founded in 1899 and began collecting data on Americans. They not only collected credit information but reported rumors about citizens’ political, social preferences and personal lives as well.
TRW Information Systems was founded in 1968 to acquire credit data and became Experian in 1996. TransUnion was launched in 1969. RCC changed its name to Equifax in 1975, solidifying the three credit bureaus as we know them today. The three agencies partnered with a technology company, Fair Isaac and Company (FICO®) to create a credit score and in 1989, the first FICO® Score for general use was introduced.
The credit reporting agencies (CRAs) have been sued before, but it was for willful noncompliance. “I asked you to remove this account. You simply either forgot or just refused to do it. That is willful, noncompliance. Every lawsuit in the country against the credit bureau has been for willful noncompliance,” explained Dr. Grayson
“I still had a very high credit score. But I noticed, over the years, my credit score kept dropping daily. Now I wrote the algorithm for credit restoration. So, I’m trying to figure out ‘why is my credit still dropping?’ It took me a while because it was so egregious that I couldn’t believe this, but the credit bureaus removed 90 percent of my perfect credit. Not only did they leave on stuff that wasn’t mine, they started removing the stuff that really was mine.
And so, I saw that they were taking my credit but I had no real idea of the scope of it. At that point. I just knew some accounts were missing.”After receiving his electronic file, he began to see just how bad it was. This was more than bad reporting and willful noncompliance. His lawsuit, after a credit audit of roughly 9,000 pages provided by the credit bureaus, is “suing them for intentionally, willfully and maliciously falsifying credit reports. One person can’t manipulate a credit file within their system. It has to be an algorithm,” said Dr. Grayson who is an engineer and mathematician.
The government has intervened on numerous occasions in attempts to bring more transparency and end discriminatory practices. In 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was passed. This required credit bureaus to make their information public and remove any data that may cause discrimination, such as race, sexuality, and disability. This of course suggested that prior to then, the info was private and discriminatory.
Some of the applicable laws that should curb predatory practices include the Truth in Lending Act (1968), the Fair Credit Reporting Act (1970), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974), the Fair Credit Billing Act (1974), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (1977), and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (2003), Fair Credit Billing Act (1974), Fair Credit and Charge Card Disclosure Act (1988), Home Equity Loan Consumer Protection Act (1988) and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (1994).
Most recently, the Comprehensive Credit Act of 2021 “provides for additional consumer credit protections, sets forth requirements for credit reporting agencies, and prohibits the inclusion of specified information on credit reports,” according to Congress.gov.
“If these laws were actually enforced, it would solve the problem that we’re having now. So, in this Act, they’re saying because you haven’t followed the 10 previous laws that we enacted, we’re coming up with a new law to force you or to pressure you to follow the previous laws, all these laws say the same thing,” argued Dr. Grayson. “But think about how stupid this law is. If they’re not following the previous 10 laws, why are they gonna follow this law?”
According to a government consumer protection report, Congress should enhance protections around scores used to rank consumers. “The risks that consumer scores can pose include potential bias and adverse effects, and the scores generally lack transparency. The data used to create scores may contain racial biases—for example, one study found Black patients were assigned lower risk scores than White patients with the same healthcare needs, predicting less of a need for a care management program.
The use of consumer scores can also have potential negative outcomes for some consumers, who may be charged higher prices or targeted for less desirable financial products.” Further, consumers are generally unaware of the ways in which they are scored—which prevents them from knowing how their personal information is being used and responding to negative consequences, said the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA) report released May 2022.
Congress should consider implementing appropriate consumer protections for consumer scores beyond those currently afforded under existing federal laws. Among the issues that should be considered are the rights of consumers to view and correct data used in the creation of scores and to be informed of scores’ uses and potential effects. As of February 2023, no actions had been proposed or taken, they report.
None of the credit agencies responded to inquiries by The Final Call deadline.
—Toure Muhammad, Contributing Writer