A woman in Washington State is suing noted credit reporting agency Experian for accidentally combining her credit information with a stranger’s.
Seattle resident Heidi Rene Johnson says that the mistake has led to many financial difficulties, beginning with the denial of a Macy’s charge card. Shortly afterward, Johnson received a notice from her bank that her spending limit had been lowered from $10,000 to $500.
Johnson ordered a copy of her credit report from Experian and discovered all of her own credit information, but also transactions performed by a woman named Heidi Lopez. The credit bureau allegedly compiled the two women’s credit reports because they have the same first name, even though their Social Security numbers differ by one digit.
According to court documents, Johnson spent several hours per week speaking to credit firms, banks, and other agencies in an attempt to resolve the issue. Phone calls continued back and forth for over two years with no resolution. Many of those calls took place during the week of her wedding. She also suffered regular calls from debt collectors looking for Lopez.
Johnson expressed dismay at the number of financial difficulties she has experienced because of the mix-up. She and her husband, who are expecting twins, could only purchase their home after her name was removed from all ownership documents.
“I've always assumed that as long as you work hard, put your time in, your credit's going to be good,” Johnson remarked.
The Johnsons’ attorney told the media that these kinds of file errors happen as a result of half-measures used by credit agencies, such as using only a first name and the last four digits of a Social Security number to confirm an individual’s identity.
While representatives from Experian declined to comment on the case due to pending litigation, the credit bureau did release a statement responding to concerns over this type of error: “Regarding the issue of mixed files, I can say that Experian has processes in place to prevent mixing of consumer credit information, but on rare occasions it does happen when there are anomalies in a credit file such as spelling or typographical errors in data furnished to us by creditors. Other instances can occur when family members who live in the same household apply for credit using incomplete or inconsistent identification information, such as not using Jr. or Sr. to distinguish themselves from family members with the same name and address. To prevent files from mixing, we place indicators on files where there is a chance this could occur and we can quickly resolve the situation by working directly with consumers to correct mixed file information.”
Fair credit reporting violations can cost consumers lost opportunities, sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. One Oregon resident successfully sued Equifax in 2013 after a similar error and was awarded over $18 million in damages.
Attorney Mike Cardoza encourages all consumers to check their credit reports vigilantly, and to click the contact link on this page if you are having trouble resolving a credit dispute.