An account that has been falsely reported as having fallen into collections on your credit file could seriously affect your ability to borrow money. The good news is that it is not difficult to dispute any inaccurate arrears that appear on your credit report, whatever the reason for the mistake.
If a fraudster managed to get hold of your personal details and applied for credit in your name, it is highly unlikely that he'll keep the account he opened in good order. Although anybody who steals your identity would usually have to use your contact details to open a line of credit, information such as your address, phone numbers and email address could be changed once an account had been set up, meaning you might not hear about an account entering collections until you check your credit report. Identity thieves can get your personal information by intercepting your mail or by hacking computer systems. If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, contact the three major credit bureaus to put a freeze on your file before disputing the information. This will stop anybody from accessing your report until you lift the freeze.
Lenders periodically pass a huge amount of information relating to how their customers manage their accounts to credit bureaus. It's far from unheard of for some of these details to be inaccurate. As such, there is a chance a creditor may have informed one or more of the bureaus that one of your accounts has slipped into arrears when it has not. This could be caused by computer or human error if a payment you made was improperly allocated to your credit account. It's also possible your bank may have stopped a direct debit in error, causing a credit account to slip into collections.
Credit bureaus are not immune from making mistakes themselves. You might find somebody else's default on your account if information about a debtor with similar personal details to you has been applied to your file. You could also find somebody else's debt on your report if a creditor has incorrectly traced a defaulted account to you. If you've shared a property with somebody who had a similar name to you, sloppy tracing could result in their debt finding its way onto your file.
Putting Things Right
Contact the credit bureau that shows the false entry on your file and dispute the information. You can do this online, over the phone or by post. The bureau will contact the creditor concerned and investigate your dispute within 30 days. You should also order a free copy of your credit report from all of the three major bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure the erroneous information hasn't been reported to other agencies.
Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.