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People seeking to correct erroneous credit reports tried on average for nearly six months and many contacted the rating agencies five or more times without success, a consumer advocacy group reported Thursday.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group reviewed 155 complaints concerning private credit bureaus on file with the Federal Trade Commission."These consumers complained to the credit bureau for an average of 23 weeks, nearly six months, without solving their problems," said Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG consumer advocate. "Further, 63 percent of the consumers have contacted the credit bureau five times or more with no relief," he said.

The study was submitted for a hearing of the House banking consumer subcommittee, which is reviewing five proposals to overhaul the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970.

The bureaus collect credit information on 90 percent of the adults in the country, selling 450 million reports to lenders, employers, insurance companies and others businesses.

A previous survey of 161 credit reports, released a month ago by Consumers Union, found that 48 percent contained errors and 19 percent had serious mistakes that could cause denial of credit, insurance or employment.

The U.S. PIRG survey shows how difficult it is to get errors corrected, Mierzwinski said.

The three main credit reporting companies - TRW of Dallas, Atlanta-based Equifax and Trans Union of Chicago - dispute the consumer advocates. They say their reports are highly accurate and help consumers by providing lenders with the information they need to make prompt credit decisions.

Consumer advocates want credit bureaus to provide their reports to consumers for free, want error investigations to be completed within 30 days, want lenders who deny credit to send consumers a copy of the report used and want to protect credit reports from unauthorized review.

"Sensitive personal financial data are being bought and sold without the consumer's knowledge or consent. Workers are being denied employment or even blackballed because of information placed in their files. And inaccurate consumer credit information is difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the record," said Rep. Esteban E. Torres, D-Calif., chairman of the consumer subcommittee.