Unfamiliar names on credit report could signal ID theft
Dear Credit Score Report,
I checked my credit report and it has a list of aliases on there, but I have never used another name. There are also some things on there I did not do. How do I go about correcting this? -- Jakkia
You should dispute minor credit reporting mistakes with the credit bureau. However, if you suspect those names -- and any unrecognized accounts -- are the work of an identity thief, then you'll need to take more decisive action.
It's difficult to know exactly what caused those errors on your credit report. "It could be anything from a clerical error, to a mixed file, to identity theft," says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. (A mixed file would accidentally blend your credit report with the report for someone with a similar Social Security number or other identifying personal information.) Regardless of the cause, your story proves why it's smart for consumers to regularly check their credit reports. "It's important for consumers to maintain the most up-to-date credit report, especially when they go to apply for credit to receive the most favorable terms," says Dave Blumberg, spokesman for credit bureau TransUnion. Although credit reporting mistakes of the more innocent variety can be disputed with the bureaus, if you think fraud is the cause, "you should immediately begin to take steps to protect yourself," says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian.
Let's start with the least-alarming possibility: Your credit report simply contains mistakes made by a bank, bureau or someone else involved in the credit industry. If that's the case, you can dispute the appearance of those items with the credit bureaus by phone, mail or online at the websites of TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
And perhaps those names are not mistakes at all. "Often, name variations [on a credit report] are the result of a person using variations in their name when they apply for credit," Griffin says. That could include listing a shortened version of a first name, for example, such as a man named "Robert" sometimes using "Bob." If that's the case, Experian discourages you from having those alternate names removed from your report. "They are included to ensure you have a complete record of what is being reported to Experian as being associated with you," Griffin says.
However, if you've always written your name in the same way -- which seems likely, judging by your note -- then I'd encourage you to take the necessary precautions against identity theft. Convinced you've been victimized? Start by gathering the credit report and any other evidence before filing a police report. "With a police report, you can add a victim statement to your credit report," Griffin says, with the bureau then taking action to suppress and remove the fraudulent information.
Additionally, at a minimum, you can place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. CreditCards.com offers a variety of sample fraud alert letters to guide you. You only need to write a single letter: Contacting one credit bureau to place an alert will mean they must contact the other two bureaus, as well. "The alert tells any business that accesses your report that you may be a victim of fraud or identity theft and asks that they take appropriate actions to verify your identity before proceeding with the application," Griffin says. As an alternative to the fraud alert, you may instead want to consider a credit freeze, which will prevent anyone -- including lenders -- from accessing your credit reports from now on. "I'd suggest a fraud alert as a minimum, and recommend a security freeze for the greatest protection," Privacy Rights' Stephens says.
To choose the most appropriate steps to take, you'll first need to find out why those mistakes appear on your credit report. In other words, you're "going to need to do a lot of detective work," Stephens says.
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