FORT WORTH (CBS11) – Consumer Justice has an alert about something showing up on credit reports all over Texas.
It’s called a “natural disaster code” and it’s supposed to help victims of disasters like hurricanes Harvey or Irma.
But a Fort Worth couple says the code showed up incorrectly on their credit report and cost them a car loan. “Someone is putting false information on my credit report — that is stopping me from getting any sort of financing,” said Rob Jones.
Jones and his wife Lisa were in Colorado for a wedding when Harvey hit Houston. “We have family there and we were worried for them,” said Jones.
While the disaster hit close to home emotionally, Harvey hit nowhere near their Fort Worth home.
So months later, when the Joneses looked into buying their leased car, they were shocked to be asked if their car was in a natural disaster. “I said, ‘are you sure you got the right car?’ And we checkedVIN numbers and it was right,” said Lisa Jones.
That’s when they learned there was a “natural or declared disaster code” on their credit report. “He said, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, I’ve run this by four or five financial institutions and they won’t finance you because your car has been in a natural disaster,'” said Lisa Jones.
The Joneses pulled their credit and saw the disaster code on all three reports.
“It wasn’t in the disaster, obviously, we live three hundred miles away. And I couldn’t figure out how someone could put that on our credit report when it flat out wasn’t true,” said Rob Jones.
Ernest Lopez, a credit coach at the non-profit Transformance, says lenders can add the code in the comments section of a customer’s credit report as a way to help disaster victims.
“They are going to say, ‘hey you were in a natural disaster, we’re going to make some special allowances for you. You may be a little late. You might not be able to pay as much because you were in a natural disaster,'” said Lopez.
According to Lopez, a natural disaster code will freeze your credit score; meaning even if you’re making all your payments on time, you score won’t go up.
But what if that code is incorrect?
“If it’s incorrect then it’s hurting you, because that’s not you,” said Lopez.
Rob Jones says they called Chase nearly ten times. “They said, ‘we did this on ZIP codes across Texas and yours was impacted,’ even though we’re 300 miles away. I said we were in Colorado. He said,’oh, can you prove that?'” said Jones.
Jones said the were never told why the code was put on their report. “Nobody ever explained that to us, nobody,” said Jones.
A Chase spokesman told Consumer Justice the code is put on as a courtesy to disaster victims.
He said in a statement:
“Following industry guidelines, we sent the special comment “affected by a natural disaster” to the credit bureaus for the auto loans of customers in FEMA-declared disaster counties. This temporary code would let creditors know about an extraordinary circumstance if a customer missed a payment. At Chase, we don’t use this code to deny credit to a customer, nor do we view it as a report on a vehicle’s condition. We explained the code to Mr. Jones in the first call and removed it from his loan three days later. We apologize for any confusion or delay in getting a confirming letter to Mr. Jones. We are removing the code from all these car loans this month, following industry guidelines.”
As for why the code would show up on a Fort Worth couple’s credit report, Tarrant County was listed on the FEMA map as a “public assistance” area meaning the county took in victims.
“If it happened to us, it’s probably happening to other people,” said Rob Jones.
Check the comments section of your credit report to see if a disaster code is on there.
You can request it be removed through your lender.
If you are still having trouble, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.