In March 2009 I shared my personal story of discovering an incorrect identity on my credit report. While applying for an equity loan, I discovered Transunion, one of the three national credit reporting agencies, was reporting a different name under my Social Security number.
Recapping my experience with Transunion back then, the bottom line is I was shuffled around and treated very poorly until I contacted the media relations department and said I was going to share my experience in this column. Within a day, my report was cleared up. Transunion’s advice was simple - always insist on speaking to a supervisor if the problem isn’t cleared up at the bottom level.
Let’s fast forward two years to the present day. I finally decided to refinance my own house. I put my loan application together and pulled my credit report. A look of horror crossed my face as I see that my credit scores are 787, 796 and 615. It seems Experian has me mixed up with the same California cab driver with the lousy credit. This time, the Social Security number is incorrect. Experian has two numbers transposed.
“Stay calm, Savage,” I tell myself.
The first thing I did was call the toll-free number for Experian listed on the report. Needless to say, I was pushed around by recordings and was never able to speak with a live human. I even hit “0,” hoping to reach an operator. The line went dead.
Seeing that I was about to blow a gasket, my very capable and calm assistant took over the efforts to solve the problem. She went to the Experian website and concluded that the agency requires the consumer obtain a copy of their version of the report to dispute any items on the report. The tri-merged report I had pulled apparently doesn’t do any good.
Oh - Experian’s report costs $11. My assistant figured $11 was worth it if it prevented me from having a heart attack. She then reported the problem as incorrect and fraudulent information. That apparently was the key to speaking with a human; a phone number was then exposed on the website.
She dialed the number and sure enough, a live human answered. I got on the line and answered several identity questions. Once my identity was verified, we reviewed each incorrect item and I was told they all were being removed. This, the Experian representative said, would change my credit score.
The next day I phoned the credit bureau that compiles all the information from the three reporting agencies for a mortgage credit report. Sure enough, the incorrect information was removed and my credit score, in one day, jumped to 791 from 615. Good news.
Still, the notion that I had to pay $11 to get this fixed bothered me. I poked around the website, found the public relations department, and ultimately had a very long conversation with Experian’s public education director. He said I could have obtained a free credit report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. This report, he said, would have sufficed and I could have saved the $11.
In the end, my problem was solved, but there always seems to be a sense of difficulty when communicating with these companies. It is unsettling when your credit history is falsely reported as derogatory. It seems to me these companies could alter their procedures, making initial communication a bit easier, especially considering the seriousness of the issues.
False information on a credit report can be disastrous. Not only could a consumer wrongly be denied credit, he also could lose his job or be denied a new job if erroneous information is not corrected quickly, thanks to the credit agencies’ bureaucratic and nontransparent communication channels.
My advice stands: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Henry Savage is president of PMC Mortgage in Alexandria. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.