That is, if you are poor enough. Institutions like Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo say that tapping into the vast repositories of information helps them weed out risky customers and combat fraud — a mounting threat for banks. But consumer advocates and state authorities say the use of the databases disproportionately affects lower-income Americans, who tend to live paycheck to paycheck, making them more likely to incur negative marks after relatively minor banking missteps like overdrawing accounts, amassing fees or bouncing checks.
When the databases were created more than 20 years ago, they were intended to help banks guard against serial fraud artists, like those accused of writing bogus checks. Since then, though, the databases have ensnared millions of low-income Americans, according to interviews with financial counselors, consumer lawyers and more than two dozen low-income people in California, Illinois, Florida, New York and Washington…. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being shut out for relatively small mistakes,” Mr. Mintz said.