Correcting your credit report

Should be easy, right? You tell the credit bureau about a mistake on your birth date or the spelling of your first name, causing you to be turned down for a loan. Then, you wait to get things cleared up.

Not so fast. Some people go through exquisite torture trying to get minor correctons on their credit reports.

Take Alison, who was turned down for a new CIBC credit card. The reason? She said her birth date was Oct. 18, but her Equifax credit check showed it as Oct. 16.

Here’s how her husband describes their attempts to make things right.

Alison was unable to reach anyone by telephone at Equifax’s general number, so ordered a copy of the credit file by telephone on June 30th. She then attempted to resolve the issue online, but was told that the error could not simply be updated by Equifax. She needed to discuss it with the Dispute department.

After receiving the credit report on July 8, she made the call as requested. Unfortunately, the computerized system was not working and it did not recognize her inquiry number.

She made a number of futile attempts to speak to a human being before trying to call yet another number in the credit report, for National Consumer Relations, and spoke to a customer service representative.

She was told that the birth date shown on the Equifax’s computerized records was now Oct. 18, the correct date. But she was refused when she asked for a copy of the computerized record,.

Alison had three options – she could wait 14 days and reapply online for a new copy, pay an additional charge to get it right away, or travel to the Toronto office and obtain a copy personally.

None of those options was acceptable. She was not going to spend one more minute of time on this matter without compensation from Equifax.

Not only had Equifax’s error interfered with her credit, but it had caused her to spend more than five hours trying to fix an error that she had no part in creating.

Equifax called to apologize and promise to send a corrected report once I forwarded the complaint.

Meanwhile, Alison has been thinking about why the system works badly for borrowers.

The easy answer is that the front line staff is incompetent and the computer system stinks.

However, I think that the root of the problem is that Equifax has enormous power over debtors because of the reliance that lenders place on the credit reports, but debtors have absolutely no power over Equifax.

Equifax knows this. It is easier and cheaper for them to deal with disgruntled debtors on a case to case basis, as here, than it is to design appropriate systems and train appropriate staff.

The banks and creditors, who pay Equifax for the credit information, have some control because they can choose to use one reporting agency over another and so their opinions matter to Equifax. Hence the policies are designed to keep them happy.

The debtors, on the other hand, can’t pull their business from Equifax; they can’t refuse to deal with Equifax. Debtors have no leverage with which to make Equifax behave.

They can’t refuse to undergo credit checks. They have no choice in how their information is gathered; they have no choice in how the information is used; they have no choice in the procedures that are imposed on them.

The legislation governing credit agencies is inadequate and does not recognize commercial realities and enormous imbalance of power between the agencies and the debtor.

Now let’s look at a story about TransUnion and a man named Rajesh, who also applied for a credit card.

I was encouraged to apply for a Walmart Mastercard, but my request was declined. I feel I should have a strong credit rating, but Walmart said there was a problem asked me to call TransUnion.

The representative said my first name has been incorrectly spelled as RJESH instead of RAJESH. He said I should send them a letter, asking to correct the name.

I both faxed and mailed a letter, with copies of my driver’s license and credit card. However, it’s been four months. They sent me a letter asking for the documents again and have not corrected the error.

The TransUnion rep also mentioned a problem with Honda Finance and end-of-lease charges. I succeeded in getting Honda to waive the charges, but they went on my credit record anyway.

During this time, two other credit card companies wrote to me, saying they had significantly reduced my credit limit since they felt I was a high risk customer.

It’s very tiresome to talk to TransUnion. Every time, they ask me a lot of questions and ask me to send a lot of documents. They don’t acknowledge any receipt of documents, as the phone reps seem to have no way of knowing if my faxed or mailed documents have reached them or not.

Here’s a final TransUnion story, involving an incorrect birth date for Paul’s wife.

My wife and I tried to open a joint account with Ally Bank. and sent in all the paperwork (birth certificate, passport, S.I.N etc.). Ally called and said no, my wife’s birthday was incorrect, according to TransUnion’s credit report.

We tried to get an online credit report from TransUnion, but the birth date was wrong and this was one of the items you needed for online access. So we sent in the paperwork for a free credit report, including a copy of my wife’s birth certificate.

They sent back the credit report with the wrong birth date. So much for checking to make sure they were sending out the right report.

I called them and suggested they review the info on file and correct the date, as we had sent in the birth certificate.

Nope, they couldn’t talk to us as we did not have the correct info to access the file. The birth date was wrong.

It took two months to sort this out and we resubmitted all the info.

You are right we need some legislation to make these companies correct wrong information and not force the consumer to jump through hoops.

We found out the date was right with Equifax, but nobody compares the data.

In my column last week, I suggested penalizing credit granters and credit bureaus that pass along incorrect information. Are the politicians listening? I’m sure they could gather many stories like these if only they started listening.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

9 thoughts on “Correcting your credit report”

  1. Easy solution – do not rely on credit. At all.

    You need a credit card? Get a prepaid one – that way you’ll only spend what you have anyway, instead of going deeper into debt.

    Need a mortgage? Save enough money for large enough of a downpayment that the bank doesn’t have to check your credit rating.

    And finally, if you really need to go through Equifax/TransUnion, you should realize that even those agencies have rules and laws they need to abide by.

    Both The Credit Reporting Agency Act and PIPEDA state that ALL items listed on your credit report must be accurate, complete and verifiable.

    If they fail to cover either one of those, send them a letter stating that, maybe send them a correct version and give them 10 days to respond. And let them know that failure to respond, on point, in writing, hand signed, and in a timely matter, will entitle you to presume that they are in error, and that matter will be challenged.

    Then contact Ministry of Justice (Consumer Protection) and Federal Privacy Commission (address and contact info easily found through Google) and file a complaint about the agency above.

    You’d be surprised how effective the agencies are in responding to you when you actually call them up on their error and threaten to play on the field where they have to oblige or pay penalties… 😉

  2. Ellen, you have once again shone a light into a black hole for consumers.

    Your reader who stated that credit bureaus care only about banks and finance companies is absolutely correct.

    The solution is fairly simple: Legislation that requires the credit bureau to confirm the information from two sources, along with huge penalties for any client refused credit due to an incorrect report.

  3. My wife has been denied a credit card because information on her birthdate was incorrect (sounds familiar?). She then requested a credit report printout to check what was wrong, only to find out that, according to EquiFax, she was born a year before her actual birthdate.

    But the funny part was still to come: In that same report, it was mentioned that she successfully borrowed $15,000 when aged 1 (in fact, when aged 3 weeks since the birthdate on the report was inaccurate)!

    Since then, we try to get it fixed. So far, so bad. I think we’ll try Jason’s less friendly approach and start playing hard balls too…

  4. You hit the nail on the head, Ellen. We need more regulation of credit reporting agencies, but don’t expect the Harper government to do anything about it.

    I had a similar problem with the spelling of my name as Rajesh did, but with Equifax not Transunion. After a while, I just gave up.

    I now deliberately write the wrong name on credit applications so it matches the Equifax file.

  5. Jason,

    1) Pre-paid cards: not all places accept them. While they are accepted by some websites online, many websites don’t support them. Hotels, car rentals, travel websites, they don’t accept pre-paid cards. A pre-paid card also carries expensive fees that dilute the balance such as a load fee, a fee whenever the card is used, etc. A conventional no-fee credit card doesn’t carry such fees or interest as long as the balance is paid in full every month. Think of these two as enough of an incentive to pay off your balance in full.

    Mortgage: lenders check the bureau regardless of the LTV. This is done not only to rate the risk but also identify the borrower (together with two pieces of government photo ID).

    Regarding your comments about the laws Equifax and Transunion have to abide by, while most of the time the mistakes on your credit profile are not intentional, it is nonetheless negligent and if the individual can prove that this inaccurate information caused them any loss or damages, these credit reporting agencies can be sued.

    I spoke to two Equifax reps over the past month. Did anyone notice how the calls are routed to a contractor in India? I kid you not, I could not understand a word they were speaking. I was also hesitant giving these people my SIN and all kinds of other confidential information over the phone. Ended up calling the French center.

  6. I understand that it can be annoying when you can’t understand someone over the phone because of their accent, but I think it’s rude to assume that a contractor in India is going to steal your identity compared to someone in Quebec.

    Equifax and Transunion have done nothing but make it more difficult for me to operate a business.

    It is these types of companies that give you phone numbers which you call and are told to seek support on their site that are the problem, not someone in India trying to make a decent living. Try to have some respect.

  7. An Equifax story with a difference.

    I went to The Source yesterday (Sat.) to buy two Bell Mobility phones (to replace two Fido phones – Fido does not have the phone I want). Everything was going smoothly in the agreement till a window about a credit evaluation popped up, mentioning a cap on use. I asked what that was all about and they could not explain fully.

    I wondered if it was a neat idea to prevent me accidentally running up huge bills and felt that was not so bad, based on horror stories I had heard, but other lines were of more concern. So I requested more explanation before continuing.

    They called Bell and I was then told that they required a deposit of $300 on my credit card. I was now getting concerned and wondered why. The only possible explanation seemed to be that they had done a credit check and I was a “bad risk” in some way.

    I knew that this was incorrect – my history of credit payments etc. for everything has been on time and paid in full since 1974! I explained that I was unwilling to accept the $300 since I am not a bad risk at all.

    The assistant manager of the store suggested we continue and see what comes next. I guess he wondered if there was more information on the next screen. That turned out to be an issue, as you will see.

    On the next screen, there was no mention so I told them to cancel the whole thing since clearly the credit check had incorrect information and I did not wish to pay up front in some way based on that. I was told that it was cancelled and the store said they would follow up with Bell.

    In retrospect, I believe at one point the asst. manager said that the $300 had “gone through” which I thought was odd. Before all details were entered, funds would be drawn on my account? I still felt reasonably comfortable with the people at the store and everything pointed to a Bell issue.

    Due to the mention of the $300 I was still concerned, so I rushed home and immediately called and discussed my account with the credit card company and $345 was “pending” along with a couple of other amounts that were normal.

    I ascertained the amount was the Bell issue, due to the time and date. Why $345? $300 + 15%? HST is 13%? Or was something else included that I was not told about?

    I explained to the credit card company what had happened but was told any corrective credit amount would come through on the next business date – Monday – so I will be watching to see what happens, of course.

    I then called Bell and explained that something is very wrong with the process. Eventually after several conversations, they said any fault lies with Equifax since the data they sent caused the cap and deposit to appear.

    It also seems odd that Bell even needed a credit check when I have been paying them for my home phone since 1974 with no late payments that I am aware of, and indeed at one point I even owned a Bell cell phone. I am a returning customer – maybe!!

    Since I was now very concerned about my credit rating, I paid for a copy online. Unfortunately I made an error in the request by not selecting the one with a score first, so up to now this fiasco has cost me around $50 (not sure of any taxes yet), just to solve a problem that is not of my making.

    It turns out my rating is 814 out of a possible 900, which Equifax considers excellent, based on their wording. I called Equifax and explained my situation. I got nowhere at all after a HUGE revealing of my personal details and eventually was told to fill in the investigation form.

    It actually took 3 calls to Equifax to get more information. The second call went to the same agent as the first one and… the line went mysteriously dead when I started to explain again.

    I checked the investigation form and it assumes I can see something that needs correcting, but the credit report shows I am an excellent customer and contains no negative issues at all. The address is not quite right (my address has changed due to Canada Post, but the place is the same) and that is not the issue.

    How can I ask for a correction in information that was sent to Bell when my credit report shows nothing wrong and my score is as good as it is? In this case, Bell will likely lose a potential customer and it looks as if Equifax is at the root of the problem.

    Thanks for letting me vent. Any suggestions/comments would be welcomed!

  8. My Trans Union report has both my first and last name spelled wrong! And while the street name is correct, the house number is not.

    Cannot believe how unprofessional and incompetent these people are.

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