Your credit report is a record of your creditworthiness. Chances are, every payment you've made to a big label credit card, mortgage servicer, or student loan debt servicer is on your credit report with one or more of the big three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Lately, a fourth credit bureau, Innovis, has been reporting accounts with an increasing number of creditors.
What many are surprised to find, though, is that credit reports (which are also known as consumer reports), include far more information than the history of your payments and balances to credit card issuers and other creditors. Credit reports also include personal information about you such as your current and former addresses, phone numbers, work history, and even partial social security numbers. As we tell potential clients of Sherman & Ticchio, (a) you should regularly review your credit reports (which you can obtain for free at annualcreditreport.com), and (b) you should not be surprised if you find errors on credit reports, including inaccurate credit information and incorrect personal information.
Each year, millions of people have inaccurate credit reports. In this post, we will explain some of the reasons why that happens.
Before going into too much detail on credit report errors, it's worth noting that the causes of credit report errors can be incredibly complex, and errors can even result from a combination of causes. For this reason, this post will focus on a top-level summary of each of the three (arguably four) main causes of inaccurate credit reports. Stay tuned for future blog posts, where we will delve into each in even more detail!
Mixed Credit Files
In a mixed file case, the client's credit file has been combined with the information of one or more other consumers. Mixed credit files often happen when the algorithms of a credit bureau (also known as a consumer reporting agency or CRA) identify information from two or more consumers as being so similar that the credit bureau fails to keep their information from combining -- or becoming mixed -- in a single credit file. When this happens, it is often because consumer reporting agencies lack reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of information on consumer reports.
For example, if you live in the same house as your mother, whose name you share, and you were both born in the same month, you would have a great deal in common with her in the eyes of a credit bureau. If your mother takes out a credit card, you may find that the account appears on your credit report. Of course, this doesn't just happen with family members. People with common first names (John, Sam, Jose) or last names (Li, Rodriguez, Smith), or even similar Social Security numbers, may find themselves mixed with one or more complete strangers.
Let's say you find a large amount of inaccurate information appearing on your credit report. Some of the addresses listed are wrong, as are the names, accounts, and/or credit inquiries. What may stand out to you is that there is a pattern to these errors. Maybe all of the incorrect addresses are from Miami, Florida, but you live in Brooklyn, New York. Or maybe all of the inaccurate names are variants of an individual named John B. Sampson. These are both strong indications that you have a mixed credit file.
You may find that the information that appears isn't inherently negative. For example, you may find that a credit account appears, but it is being paid on time and has never been late. This does NOT, however, mean that being the victim of a mixed file is sometimes a good thing. Even if the individual you are mixed with is making payments on time today, there is no guarantee that the individual won't miss a payment next month. Every day, the victim of a mixed file wakes up knowing that his or her ability to get credit depends, in a very real sense, on the ability and willingness of a complete stranger to properly manage his or her credit.
Most clients assume that credit report errors are due to identity theft, and many times that is true. If an identity thief steals your credit card information and makes unauthorized charges, those fraudulent charges will be reflected on your credit report. Even more damaging is when a thief obtains enough of your confidential personal information to open credit cards in your name. When this occurs, an identity thief may access tens of thousands of dollars worth of credit in your name, and then, once your credit limits are reached, the identity thief will suddenly disappear.
Victims find themselves facing a long series of disastrous effects of identity theft. Not only may they be unable to take out a mortgage or other loan when they most need one, they may find that, as their credit score decreases, their credit limits are lowered, interest rates on their credit cards increase, and even closed credit cards .
Status cases tend to have very complicated factual backgrounds. These involve an account that legitimately belongs to the consumer, but information associated with that account is inaccurate. For example, you may have a mortgage that appears on your credit report, but the tradeline for that account shows that you've missed three payments when you've never missed a payment in your life. These credit report errors tend to occur when creditors (banks, credit card issuers, student loan servicers, mortgage holders, etc.) make a mistake in their records and report inaccurate information to the credit bureaus.
This last category covers a series of (generally smaller) errors that appear on credit reports. Imagine you apply for a credit card by phone, and the representative mistakenly lists your name as “Johhn Smith.” This typo may appear on your credit report because it has been associated with information gathered by the issuer of one of your credit cards. This type of “mistake” can cause variants of names, addresses, phone numbers, and even Social Security numbers to appear on your credit reports.
While a mistake might seem like a minor problem, the consequences can be extreme and long-lasting. A mistake appearing on your credit report may be the very reason a credit bureau like Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion mixes you with another person. Mistakes may even be signs of identity theft, as identity thieves frequently make typos and other errors when impersonating a victim.