Checking your credit report at least once a year—more often if you’re planning to apply for a major loan—is important. These regular check-ins will help you spot any errors that might be hurting your credit. One thing to watch for are accounts that don’t belong to you but are appearing on your report. When you do find an account that isn’t yours, how you handle it is crucial. If the account has a high balance or negative status, your credit score could be affected by it.
How Did the Wrong Account Get on Your Credit Report?
Sometimes a human error is to blame for the wrong accounts showing up on your credit report. Someone may have transposed the numbers in your social security number. Or, there may be someone with a similar name whose credit profile got mixed up with yours. Other times, these accounts are the result of fraud or identity theft; someone may have intentionally opened a credit card account in your name. This is especially likely if there are multiple accounts on your credit report that don’t belong to you.
How to Remove False Accounts
Fortunately, there’s a fairly straightforward process for clearing your credit report of accounts that aren't yours. Sometimes the process works the first time, but in other cases, you may have to repeat or take another course of action to clean up your credit report completely. You can keep a close eye on your credit with a credit monitoring service so you can spot any errors sooner rather than later.
- Start by ordering your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’ve already ordered one, pull the other two credit reports to see if they contain fraudulent accounts, too.
- Dispute the account with the company that listed the account on your credit report. You’ll want to have the account closed to prevent any future billings made to the account in your name. Having the company flag the account as fraud will help to get it removed from your credit report.
- Dispute the account with the credit bureau(s) that have the account listed on your credit report. You can do this online, by phone, or via mail. Sending your dispute via (certified) mail gives you a paper trail that can be beneficial if the credit bureau doesn’t resolve the dispute in your favor.
- Credit bureaus are legally required to investigate your claim within 30 days, as long as it isn't frivolous. Federal law gives you the right to file a lawsuit against a credit bureau that doesn't stick to the law. If you have any proof supporting your claim, you can mail, fax, or upload this proof. Make sure you send a copy and not your original documents.
- Ideally, the credit bureau’s investigation will return in your favor, and the account will be removed from your credit report. You can add a fraud alert to your credit report if you think identity theft was the cause and that there's a chance the thief could open more accounts in your name. A step further would be to place a "freeze" on your credit report, making it difficult for any additional fraudulent accounts to be opened in your name. The Federal Trade Commission offers a handy online guide to establishing a credit freeze.
What to Do If the Account Isn't Removed
If your dispute is unsuccessful, it’s likely because the business confirmed to the credit bureau that the account does belong to you. Working with this business to prove the account is fraudulent is the best next step. Speak with a manager, supervisor, or even a vice president or president at the company, providing evidence that the account does not belong to you.
Complaining to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may help you get the account marked as fraudulent and removed from your credit report. While the CFPB doesn’t force a company to take any action in your favor, having a government agency involved may inspire the credit bureau and the company that furnished the information to take a closer look at your account. Companies with a history of behaving badly face penalties from the CFPB.
You have the right to sue a credit bureau that doesn’t remove a fraudulent account from your credit report after you’ve proven it's not yours. This is why it’s important to keep copies of all your correspondence with the credit bureau. If nothing else works, contact a consumer rights attorney that practices in your state to discuss suing the credit bureau for damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.