John Oliver exposed many of the problems with credit reports and background checks in this weekend’s Last Week Tonight. Your credit score can be the most important three-digit number in your life, affecting your ability to rent a house, buy a car, or even get a job. “You might be surprised just how many aspects of your life your credit report can affect,” says Oliver, noting that 47 percent of employers use credit scores when hiring. And Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting companies, encourage this, because they believe good credit scores indicate good employees. But Oliver counters, “Look at me. My credit is probably fine, but I routinely waste HBO’s money on stupid costumes, pyrotechnic displays, and checkered dress shirts.”
The real problem is that credit scores consistently contain “a shocking number of errors.” And beyond destroying your dreams of owning a home, these errors, which include confusing two people with similar names, or identifying you as a terrorist or as a dead person, are now being used by hundreds of background check companies, which combine credit scores with criminal history to come up with a story of your life.
In order to prove his point of how often errors show up, Oliver’s show paid for background checks for many of its staff members, and, of course, there were errors. The credit companies claim 95 percent accuracy, but that five percent is big. “When you are holding records for more than 200 million individuals, that five percent error rate affects 10 million people,” Oliver explains. “They’re basically saying, ‘Great news, everyone, we only f—– up a group equivalent to the entire population of Sweden! We’re the greatest!'”
Watch the clip to see how Oliver plans to give these companies a taste of their own medicine.