False credit errors ruin some job applications

(CBS News) With the unemployment rate up slightly last month to 8.2 percent, the last thing a job seeker needs is a mistaken credit report that hurts their chances.

Still, it's a problem that happens all too often.

Emmett Pinkston spent decades in the military, most recently working in intelligence and serving in Iraq. He thought that was more than enough training to get a job as a TSA baggage screener.

"I've flown planes, helicopters. I've done things that qualify me for a job," Pinkston said.

He didn't get it -- not because of his qualifications, but because of an erroneous charge of $8,000 that turned up during a credit check. Pinkston is one of at least 22 million Americans with an error on their report, according to data from the credit industry.

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Fixing the problem, "it's been described as Kafkaesque," said Amy Traub, a senior analyst and Demos, a public policy think tank. "It can take months of, you know, calling and writing letters to the credit reporting agencies, to these companies that are persisting on billing you for something that you never owed in the first place."

One survey shows 60 percent of employers use the reports to help evaluate at least some job applicants, the idea being, a person's financial health reveals their character.

"A person who is living who is living beyond their means, think about FBI agents for example who sold secrets; a person who has financial stress can sometimes be more prone to external risks," said Stuart Pratt, who represents the credit industry.

But many analysts disagree. As one industry executive admitted before the Oregon state legislature: "At this point, we don't have any research to show any statistical correlation between what's in somebody's credit report and their job performance or their likelihood to commit fraud."

In a bad economy, a credit report can be a poor gauge.

"If you don't have a job, you fall behind on your bills perhaps. Well, then you can't get a job because you're behind on your bills," Traub said.

Pratt said credit checks are not the be-all-end-all they seem, though.

"It's not the on-off switch as to whether I get the job. Quite often, it's just an evaluative part of the process," Pratt said.

But it's meant all the difference to Emmett Pinkston. He did get his report fixed, but too late to get the job.

"I want this job every day," Pinkston said. "I'm looking for job security. I'm looking for something to retire on. I'm looking for an opportunity to serve my country."

He's still hopeful. More than two years after he first applied to the TSA, he's back on the wait list.

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