You may be familiar with the problem of identity theft. But can you tell apart identity theft, and a “mixed file” issue where a credit reporting agency (“CRA”) mixes up the credit history of two or more people? Making the distinction can be very important for deciding how to respond.
How Can I Tell if my Identity has been Stolen?
If you begin to receive texts or emails saying that you have made purchases at unfamiliar stores, if there are unknown charges on your bank statements, or if you review your credit report and see that there are new accounts or loans opened in your name that you did not open, these could be signs that someone is using your identity. In this situation you should put a fraud alert on all your credit reports, for free, to signal lenders that your identity may have been stolen and to stop them from opening more accounts under your name.
How Are Mixed Files Different?
Mixed Files on the other hand happen when a CRA like Equifax or Experian mixes the credit history of two different people. For example, a person with a name that is very similar or identical to yours could have some of their credit accounts placed into your file.
How do you tell these two problems apart? First, when you request your free credit reports from the three major CRAs by using annualcreditreport.com, carefully check to see whether the erroneous or unfamiliar accounts are appearing on just one agency’s report, or if the accounts are showing up on all three of the agencies’ reports. If they show on all of the reports, this can be a warning sign that an identity thief has been opening accounts in your name, because all of the agencies were given the information.
If however, these accounts appear on just one of the reports, this can be a hint that one agency has made an error on your report or created a mixed file. In either case, you should dispute the incorrect information in writing with each of the CRAs immediately. If you suspect someone has stolen your identity you can freeze your credit by contacting the CRAs to stop any more accounts from being opened. In general, you should consistently monitor your credit reports to not be surprised by bad news long after the problems occurred.