Lauren Kantor considers herself in the "financial know": She works in the banking industry and pulls her credit report with the three major credit bureaus constantly.
"I often check the credit to see where the score is at and if there's anything new on the report that I should know about," said Kantor.
But Kantor was asked if she's ever pulled a consumer report from a nationwide consumer reporting agency. Those are companies that may be tracking your utility payment history, your insurance claim record, or know if you've ever violated a lease, bounced a check or gotten a ticket.
"I find that absolutely crazy. I had no idea," said Kantor.
Millions people could have records with hundreds of nationwide consumer reporting agencies, which get information from court files, banks, even companies you have an account with.
"I don't think most people realize there's so many different agencies and data collection services out there right now," said Kim Gough, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse consumer advisor. "And most of the time they don't actually find out about it until something negative happens."
"Something negative" means you may be turned down for bank accounts, insurance, jobs, apartments, even cable TV. But federal law says you have the right to request annual reports from these agencies, just like you do with the "big three" credit bureaus. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau keeps a list (.PDF) of many of the biggest consumer agencies.
"Run a report on yourself, make sure that it's accurate and if it's not accurate then take the steps necessary to correct the information that's not accurate," said Gough.
"I should really know what kind of information is out there about me and if there are mistakes, I really need to get them corrected," said Kantor.
Companies must also give you a copy of your credit report if the information has been used to deny your application.