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Fixing Credit Report Errors

A 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 [3].

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 [4]. 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 [5])