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Fixing Credit Report Errors

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Rusty WrenchA few years ago I had a little credit report error incident. I just started a new job and was going through a background investigation, which included a review of my credit history. In the course of that review, the investigator noticed that there was an address listing on the report that I hadn’t previously disclosed. The reason I never mentioned the address is because it wasn’t mine.

When he told me, I feared the worst. I thought I was joining the millions of people who have their identity stolen each year. In fact, just a year before that, a friend was telling me how it took him several months to get his identity recovered and even then everything credit-related was a pain. So my mind immediately jumped to ID theft.

Fortunately, it was an isolated, albeit strange, credit report error that was relatively easy to resolve. The error was the addition of an address, a Social Security Number (that differed from my SSN by one digit), and a telephone/cable package. I went through the usual protocols of disputing the information, thinking the onus was on the other party to prove that information was true, but I was wrong.

If you want a copy of your credit report, you can request one from each of the three bureaus every twelve months by visiting Annualcreditreport.com. It is the only place where you can get a no-strings-attached free copy of your report from each bureau. No credit score is provided, for that you’ll need to use free credit report offers.

Fixing Personal Information Errors

Since it dealt with personal information, I had to prove I never lived at that address. To prove I never lived there, I had to provide a two bills, bank, or credit card statements showing an address other than one one for the preceding six months. To prove the telephone wasn’t mine, I had to provide a bill for phone service with a permanent address matching the other documents. It was 50 pages worth of documents and I had a grand time blacking out sensitive information and faxing that monster over to the credit bureau. Finally, I had to fax a copy of my Social Security Card to prove the other number wasn’t mine.

It was a simple fix but one that should never have happened. I thought the SSN had to be unique to the credit report, but they’re not. They usually are, except in rare cases where there is a data entry error and somehow a second SSN gets added. I don’t know what genius created the software that doesn’t check for that but I’m not surprised, credit bureaus work for lenders, not borrowers. (then again, as a lender, I’d never lend a penny to someone with two SSNs!)

Fixing Account Information Errors

These errors are a little easier to fix because the onus is on the institution that reported the account in the first place. If it’s a minor error, I would just go with the bureaus reporting mechanism to get it resolved. If it’s a more serious matter, I recommend following the process outlined by Bob Sullivan on The Red Tape Chronicles. In the case of erroneous bankruptcies or other serious errors, it makes more sense to take their more rigorous, no-nonsense approach to fixing credit report errors. While the responsibility for proving the information is on the furnisher, that doesn’t mean the bureau’s going to spend all that much time trying to resolve it.

Fixing credit report errors is a necessary evil. I’m far more cautious and careful with my personal information after having gone through that experience. You can’t protect yourself from everything and you do what you can, so it’s important to know what you should do next if you do find errors on your credit report.

(Photo: hvargas)

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11 Responses to “Fixing Credit Report Errors”

  1. Patrick says:

    I have a few mistakes on my credit report that hurt my chances of refinancing because it lowered my score. Luckily I was able to contact all three credit bureaus and they took them right off. Unfortunately, the interest rates rose by the time the fix was able to happen though…

  2. How could they really be sure you didn’t live at that address? You could have kept up one address for appearances and snuck into your secret lair by the dark of night.

    That sucks – you’d think USPS would have records that they could check against.

  3. Lacey says:

    “because the onus is on the institution that reported the account in the first place” …and all those institutions have to do is have automated software that sends back this response to the credit bureaus: “Verified”. They don’t have to actually PROVE anything.

  4. StephaniePTY says:

    That’s really awful. I don’t know what I’d do if something like that happened to me right now – having just graduated and moved out of my parents house, I don’t yet have the bills and things that would prove my previous addresses.

    I’m glad I watch my credit reports like a hawk, but now I’m not so sure what I would do if there was an error like this on one of them!

  5. Sarah says:

    What a timely article. Just pulled my husband and my credit reports today for August and noticed a duplicate SS#. Glad to know it’s not a total nightmare to fix.

  6. Dan B. says:

    I have the wonderful privilege of being named after my father in first and last name alone. Since my middle name is different I am not a junior. Due to this I had a stint of about 5 years leading up to, and shortly after, my father’s death where I would periodically have to clear his debts from my credit report. Imagine my surprise when I was 22 and only had a Sears charge account, but my credit report showed that I had a $10,000+ defaulted credit card. I had a very annoying experience when I tried to buy a car and the guy in finance actually laughed at me over this debt that I had no clue about.

    Clearing it up was easier and more difficult than your example. I had some fun conversations with representatives that were confused about the problem:
    Me: “Yes, my name is Daniel ….., and yes I lived at these addresses, but I’m Daniel W. ….., not Daniel C.”
    Rep: “So you’re Daniel ….. Jr?”
    Me: “No.”
    Rep: “…”
    Fortunately, I was able to send some court documents that listed the names of our entire family, as well as his birth date and social, to the credit bureaus which cleared it up and was a little less problematic than proving that I didn’t live here or there. I do still have at least one of my father’s old addresses on my credit report that I didn’t reside. He’s not with us anymore, so I’m not worried about any future confusion.

    Lesson learned: I named my son something else.

  7. eric says:

    Personal info correction IS a pain..ugh.

  8. Fairy Dust says:

    I found out something pretty disturbing about TransUnion a few years ago. I tried to rent an apartment for my college-frosh son (co-signing his app since he had no credit history at that point), and I listed my name and SSN and figured it was a shoo-in. Well, the apartment rental company used only TransUnion for their credit checks, neither of the other two major agencies (where my history was fine and intact and complete). When the apartment rental people denied my app because they said I have no credit history at all, I was floored – I’ve had student loans, car loans, cc accounts for decades, in my own name and SSN, all paid off on time, blah blah blah.

    I called TransUnion and spoke to someone in another country who was no help at all and more interested in selling me on credit protection (ha!). He said it was somehow my fault and I had to submit records providing all my history to them. That seemed pretty ludicrous and would’ve easily taken years.

    So I finally enlisted the help of the reader advocate at Kiplinger’s who contacted someone much farther up the food chain at TransUnion. I provided the requested info, and lo and behold, they had all my info/history, but under other versions of my name. I replied that I thought the whole point of one unique Social Security Number was that it was the focal point for all the info – wouldn’t you figure a computer could search on the SSN and compile everything from that? Well, no, apparently it’s not compiled that way. My file with that agency is still not as complete as the other two and I don’t know why, but at least there’s enough info there on me now that this denial nonsense shouldn’t happen again.

    Just a heads up if anyone else finds this to be the case…

    Oh, and I was doing the recommended free credit report from each agency every year, but all that told me was that they had me and there were no negative marks. I didn’t realize that the lack of detail actually meant they didn’t have any detail linked to my SSN until the above situation clued me in. Now I’m much more careful to comb each report and check details.

    • Jim says:

      When you request your report, they should send you everything, not just negative marks. It sounds like TU had absolutely nothing? So the report they sent you via Annualcreditreport.com should’ve been blank and raised a red flag?

  9. Nice post. I have found that the bureaus consider you guilty until proven innocent. It is an uphill battle that takes months to fix . . .

  10. Stop the madness says:

    My husband (whom has an excellent credit rating) has had mixed credit issues with 2 other people with poor credit for approximately the past 10 years.

    Every year I diligently request our free credit report, (unless we will be applying for a loan in which case I pay for the reports if need be)and begin the task of correcting the errors. They are usually corrected within 30days. However, almost every year, these same erroneous accounts creep back on the report!

    This April we wanted to refinance our home, I pulled the reports that were corrected in August 2008, only to find that Trans Union had multiple wrong accounts listed again. I once AGAIN made the corrections in May 2009 only to find out as of last week (Aug 2009) one account has once again reared its ugly head. I now need to wait another 30 days to hopefully get this mess cleared.

    Trans Union states it’s an error with the creditor, and of course the creditor always verifies the accounts are not ours and blames Trans Union.

    I need to know WHAT to do! The notion that these things appear and multiply like rabbits in such a short amount of time is keeping me awake at night!

    I have disputed, corrected, yelled, kicked and screamed to no avail.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!


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