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Some changes are afoot at data reporting agencies

by Garland M Baker on April 13, 2009

A few years ago, data reporting was new to Costa Rica. The major players in the market were Datum.net, Cero Riesgo S.A., Protectora de Crédito Comercial S.A. and Trans Union Costa Rica. Today, the same companies are still in the market. What is interesting is the increasing role they play in providing credit, localization and employment reporting to companies, lawyers and financial institutions.

Everyone in Costa Rica, including expats, is being systematically logged into databases and the information is easy to get by everyone. Everything one does is put under a magnifying glass, studied, categorized, logged and then sold to others.

Datum is the clear leader, with Cero Riesgo running a close second place. The problem with Datum is the service tends to be very expensive for the common professional to use. The firm charges a minimum fee of $150 a month for everyone, except lawyers who get a special deal at $15 a month. The monthly amounts are consumable. This means the cost of running reports can be applied to the basic monthly fee. If one uses up the monthly amount, additional credits can be purchased. The other companies tend to be cheaper. For example, Cero Riesgo charges a minimum consumable fee of $25.

The basic reports offered by the data companies are: 1. a complete study of a person or company,
which includes credit information, 2. an employment study, 3. and a location report. It’s interesting that financial institutions in Costa Rica only report bad credit and not good, which means that a complete study of a person or company will reflect bad credit risks.

If no bad credit is reported, it means the person or company is up to date paying bills. The data companies also provide information that one can acquire for free at the Registro Nacional, but they charge for it. If one goes directly to the Registro, the information tends to be more accurate and up-to-date.

The Registro Civil provides some personal information about individuals like marriages, divorces and children. It is free, too. The data provided by the reporting agencies tend to be much more comprehensive for personal information.

Datum, interestingly enough, limits — and has been limiting more and more lately — the kind of information it supplies customers, unless they can provide commercial references. This is because a high-ranking law enforcement official has been accused of using the information obtained from the reporting agencies to help others steal money. For example, Datum used to provide all of its customers the telephone numbers listed in the name of a person or company and employment pay histories. This information now is only supplied to select customers who qualify for the additional data. Cero Riesgo supplies this information by default to all of its customers.

One of the best uses of these data reports is for employment purposes. An interesting use of the services is pulling up a report while interviewing an applicant. It is fascinating to see the expression on an applicant’s face during an interview when an employer can ask the person on the spot about problems found in a report.

The services now provide civil and criminal court cases against a person or company. This information also is available online directly from the court system, but most people do not know how to use it. It can be found at the Poder Judicial website.

One other major use of the reports is to find people. This is called the location service. The reporting agencies provide all telephone and cellular numbers of a person and all their family members’. Lawyers and private investigators use the information to track down individuals.

The scary part is crooks use the same services to find people and do them harm. That is a major problem and the reason some people have filed constitutional court cases against the data reporting agencies to get them keep them from reporting certain information. However, the court has found that all the information reported is available publicly in other places and that all the reporting agencies are doing is compiling it and putting it in one convenient place. That is actually what they charge for.

There is a way to get one’s information pulled from the agencies. However, it is an all-or-nothing deal. A person or company needs to write each reporting company a letter requesting all of the information contained in their databases be blocked and not reported, including any pictures. It is the obligation of the reporting agency to do so and not to report it with a statement it was blocked by request. This can work against someone looking for credit or a job. Having blocked information sends up red flags to a credit grantor or an employer.

There is currently a proposed law in the legislature to require anyone keeping data on people to register the databases with some government agency. Think about this for a moment: It seems that every company keeps some kind of database on their customers and clients. Having to register the database with the government would seem to be a monumental task — not to mention keeping it all straight. It will be interesting to see if the proposal goes anywhere.

The reporting of personal and company information is a controversial issue in Costa Rica. Many want it to go away and have all their information private. Others want to increase what is reported and have its distribution even more available to everyone. The problem is that the same information used for good purposes is also used by bad people to harm others.

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