Our office is often contacted by consumers who think they have been victims of identity theft because they see unfamiliar accounts on their credit report. While identity theft is sometimes to blame, the more common culprit is actually a credit bureau. Believe it or not, they often "mix" someone else's credit information in with your own file.
If you think you are the victim of either identity theft or a mixed credit file, you should contact us immediately to explore your legal rights and options.
In the meantime, because most people are unfamiliar with mixed credit files, this post is aimed at explaining the phenomenon a bit more.
How credit bureaus store data
Most people assume that their credit files are indexed by the bureaus under their unique Social Security Number. If the account is tied to your SSN, then it appears in your credit report; if it is not tied to your SSN, then it does not appear. That is not entirely true. Credit bureaus index data according to a number of factors, and your SSN is just one of those. The credit bureau may also assume that a SSN slightly different than yours is a mistake, and will include all account information associated with that slightly different SSN in your file.
Why that matters
Because your SSN is just one piece of the puzzle when a credit bureau decides whether to include an account in your file, it is entirely possible that a credit bureau sweeps up someone else's account information in your credit file, even perhaps several of their accounts. This is especially common if the SSN is close to yours, the name is close to yours, and/or there is some shared address history. Most commonly, family members see their information mixed in another family member's credit file.
A mixed file can hurt
If the person whose file you're mixed with is late on their payments, or defaults on their debts, your credit will suffer. You may even receive collection phone calls, or be sued.
How to fix a mixed file
As with any credit reporting issues, your first step should be to file a dispute with the credit bureau. Maybe that will fix things easily - maybe not. But you should file the dispute quickly, and contact an attorney just as quickly. Our office offers free consultations on credit reporting issues, and can handle many cases on a contingency basis, so that we don't get paid unless you do.