News 8 Investigates: The Cost of Credit Report Mistakes

Federal Trade Commission finds 25 percent of consumers had error on credit report

Life was normal for this busy Onalaska mother of two.

“All there is is karate and work schedules up here,” said Brittany Tostrud.

Until the 25-year-old started to notice something abnormal.

“I was filing my taxes this year, and it popped up with an email address that didn’t belong to me,” said Tostrud.

Brittany found another mistake after checking her credit report.

“I saw a Comcast bill on there,” said Tostrud. “Well, I’ve never lived anywhere where there’s a Comcast. So it started really to not add up.”

While this young mom admits she expected her credit report would show a few bills she knew she hadn’t paid on time, she didn’t expect to see incorrect information start to stack up.

“Then it showed an Illinois address on my credit report, and I’ve never lived in Illinois,” said Tostrud. “So that kind of was a red flag right there that something wasn’t right.”

“It happens quite frequently,’ said GECU collection manager and loan officer Jackie Mahlum-Paul.

Mahlum-Paul said she has worked with people who have found errors in their credit reports, and the consequences can be serious.

“It will always be a negative impact if there is an error,” said Mahlum-Paul. “The degree of negativity is determined by what kind of an error it might be.”

A 2012 Federal Trade Commission study of the U.S. credit reporting industry found 1 in 4 consumers identified errors on their credit reports that might affect their credit scores. Local law enforcement says if you find an error, act fast.

“If there’s debts, if there’s creditors that you just don’t have any idea why they’re there, you need to contact us and file that police report, because most creditors are going to want a police report before they even start looking into it,” said Onalaska Investigator Chad Marcon.

To file a police report and start the process to determine if the mistake is the result of a credit reporting error or identity theft, Marcon says people should bring in proof.

“Whatever documents you’ve got from that creditor that you don’t believe is true, bring in, and we will add that to the police report and pretty much take it from there,” said Marcon.

Once the police report is filed, the Federal Trade Commission website says there are two steps that need to be taken to correct the mistake. First, a person should write to the credit reporting company stating the inaccuracies and include copies of documents that support the claim. Click here for a sample dispute letter. The second step is to write to the company or organization that reported you to a credit company and state that you dispute an item in your credit report. Click here for a sample dispute letter.

These steps are exactly what Tostrud needs to do to have the misinformation removed from her credit report.

“It’s just weird to see this address in Illinois keep popping up under my name,” said Tostrud.

And she knows the importance of fixing the problem.

“All I know is I want to figure out how to get it taken care of and get it off my credit, because eventually it probably will start to hurt it, especially if people are opening up Comcast things, or whatever else, under my name and not paying them or just racking up bills. I don’t want that to keep showing up on my credit,” said Tostud.

Once you report an error to one of the big three credit reporting agencies — Trans Union, Equifax or Experion — the credit reporting company usually investigates the claim within 30 days.

Both the loan officer and the Onalaska investigator say it’s important to check your credit reports for mistakes so that when you need credit it is available to you. The loan officer says it’s a good idea to pull a credit report every four months to check your credit. Federal law allows people to get a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year.