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A Coding Error Labeled Up to 500K Customers’ Utility Payments As Late

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Duke Energy may have affected about 500,000 customers’ credit histories when it mislabeled some on-time bill payments as late, the company announced Oct. 7.

The North Carolina-based utility provider sent letters about the error to customers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, saying it possibly sent incorrect late-payment information to the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. The NCTUE is a consumer-reporting agency comprising about 70 utility and TV service providers who sometimes use the data in credit-approval decisions, and Duke Energy first realized the issue in August after a customer contacted the company saying she had been denied services from another utility provider because of inaccurate information, the Dayton Daily News reported. Potentially affected consumers include Duke Energy customers who were on certain payment plans as far back as 2010.

Duke Energy no longer reports payment data to NCTUE, and it has blocked access to previously reported data, so it can no longer be used in credit-related decisions, according to a company news release about the incident. Some commercial accounts were also affected, and similar actions were taken with reporting agencies Dun & Bradstreet and Equifax Commercial Services. No payment information was reported to the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

There are scores of consumer reporting agencies that generate scores used to evaluate the risk of doing business with individuals, some of which are used in lending decisions. Your credit score gives utility providers an indication of how likely you are to pay your bills on time, and if they see you as a risky customer, they might deny you service or charge you an upfront deposit to cover their expenses in the event you miss payments.

That’s just one of the many reasons to regularly monitor and work on your credit scores — if you notice your score seems lower than it should be, you may want to find out if you’re dealing with a reporting error. In this case, since payment data wasn’t reported to the three major credit bureaus, the error wouldn’t have been on one of your free annual credit reports, but credit reporting errors do happen and they can affect data furnished to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers can certainly try to track down all their consumer reports — you can request info from NCTUE — but that’s a seriously time-consuming undertaking, and many data brokers won’t and don’t have to give you your data.

That being said, monitor what you can control: You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the major credit bureaus, and you can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, with updates every 30 days. Should you find an error in your credit report, dispute it, because your credit scores are calculated from the information in your credit reports. Understanding what impacts your credit scores and where you fall on the spectrum of good and bad credit can help you learn how to earn better credit in the future.

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