Wrong address in credit report won't hurt score

Bureaus' formula to decide correct address leaves room for error

Speaking of Credit columnist Barry Paperno
Barry Paperno is a freelance writer and credit scoring expert with decades of consumer credit industry experience, serving as consumer affairs manager for FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corp.) and consumer operations manager for Experian. He writes "Speaking of Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about credit scoring and rebuilding credit, for CreditCards.com. His writings about credit scoring have appeared in The Huffington Post, MSN Money, CBS Money Watch and other consumer finance websites.

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Dear Speaking of Credit,
I was reviewing my current credit report. On it there are two previous addresses that are not mine. They're a former business associate's address. At no time did we seek joint credit as business partners. In fact, these addresses have dates that are after our business relationship had ended. To my knowledge no credit has been opened in my name as a result of this, but I would like to know if there is something I can do within the law to stop this from happening again, or better yet, to deal with the fact that this has happened without my knowledge or agreement. Thank you. – Dan

Answer Dear Dan,
Your question brings to light an important part of your credit report – personally identifiable information – that’s often overlooked or not taken seriously, since it cannot impact your credit score. Yet, as you’ve found, such errors can still be worrisome.

Your credit report, the underlying basis of your credit score, is made up of personally identifiable information, plus data about credit accounts, collections, public records (judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies) and inquiries.

Personally identifiable information finds its way to your credit file as part of any data submitted to the credit bureau by creditors and other furnishers of credit data. It typically consists of your name, Social Security number, date of birth, telephone number, employer and spouse’s name, and – most importantly to you – current and previous addresses.

It’s often news to consumers that neither credit information nor the personal data related to it is verified for accuracy by the credit bureau before assigning it to a credit file. Put another way, a credit bureau has no way of truly determining whether you owe what a creditor says you owe or whether you lived where a creditor says you lived before placing it on your credit report.

For example, since credit bureaus cannot know for sure which address you consider “current,” especially when they receive conflicting information from different creditors, they use a formula to determine which address will be considered current or previous based on how frequently an address been reported to them. The more frequently and recently it’s been reported, the more likely it will be the current address.

The system can go wrong. When it comes to inaccurately reported addresses or other personally identifiable information, errors can arise from one of the following causes:

  1. Information belonging to a friend, family member, business associate. It may come in the form of an address of someone with whom you shared a residence or mailing address in the past; or a family member having a similar name, address or Social Security number; or perhaps a business-associate who has received delivery of a purchase made with your credit card.
  2. Information belonging to a consumer you don’t recognize. These errors tend to occur at the credit bureau where information is wrongly matched with that of different consumer, despite the information being reported accurately by the creditor.

Another cause of unwanted personally identifiable information can be identity theft. It’s important that, upon discovering unfamiliar personally identifialble information, you immediately check the rest of your credit report – credit accounts, collections, public records, inquiries – for any accounts, collections, balances, inquiries or payment history details that don’t belong to you. Then, if you find evidence of fraudulent activity, file a dispute of the information with the credit bureau and the creditor reporting it, and place a fraud alert or security freeze on your reports.

Back to your situation, since those previous addresses belonged to a former business associate, it could be that at one time you may have both been issued individually held company credit cards. Then either the card company or the credit bureau somehow allowed your two sets of information to mix, with the result being your associate’s address listed as a previous address on your credit report. Or, there’s the less-likely scenario where both of your names and addresses may have appeared on a business-related mail or membership list and were either misreported to the credit bureau, or reported properly, but misapplied to your credit report.

You also mention that the dates for those addresses were reported after your business association had ended. Previous addresses are often reported for many years, leaving a wide opportunity for that information to continue reporting with refreshed dates that give the impression of more-recently obtained information than is the case.

Fortunately, although there’s no way to prevent such errors from occurring in the first place, there is something you can do to remove those previous addresses not belonging to you. Simply submit a credit bureau dispute in which you provide corrections to any erroneous information. The bureau will make those updates and respond to you within about 30 days. Then, since there’s no guarantee the errors won’t be repeated, check your credit report regularly at AnnualCreditReport.com or the credit bureau websites for reappearing or newly occurring mistakes.

See related: 10 surefire steps to fix credit report mistakes

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Updated: 01-21-2019