mixed credit reportsMany Americans understand the importance of their credit and the life-altering implications that bad credit can have. While actively managing your credit is an important step in building and maintaining good credit, it is far from the only step; monitoring your credit is equally critical in making sure that occurrences like identity theft and credit report errors don’t hurt you. However, not all credit report errors are equal. In this post, we detail mixed credit reports – arguably one of the worst types of credit errors – as well as how they might affect you and how you can deal with them.

What are mixed credit reports?

Mixed credit reports occur when your social security number returns the credit history of another individual. This can often be the result of certain types of fraud, like synthetic identity theft, where thieves match random names to social security numbers (or even just parts of social security numbers) in order to fool credit reporting systems. Some fraudulent credit repair companies engage in similar scams as well, using children’s untouched social security numbers and matching them with someone else’s credit history to help their client get a “fresh start.”

Scams and theft aren’t the only causes for mixed credit reports, as it isn’t unheard of for credit bureaus themselves to cause what’s known as “partial matching.” Since the algorithms that match names and social security numbers to someone’s credit history don’t pull actual credit reports — they pull data — there is some room for error. Just like a meal at a dine-in restaurant, credit reports are made on request – they usually don’t exist until lenders (or you) ask for them. This means that if an algorithm makes a mistake matching your exact name and/or exact social security number when compiling a report, you could end up with a mixed credit report. Instances like this are most common in families, like with father-son names that are only distinguishable with generational titles such as junior or senior. Additionally, people with extremely common surnames, like Smith or Miller, are more likely to have this issue. Occasionally, other things like shared birthdays or near identical mailing addresses could result in this issue, as well. The implications of mixed credit reports can range from annoying to outright devastating, and mixed reports can sometimes affect things beyond the financial realm, reaching into other aspects of one’s identity.

How do you know if your credit report is mixed?

The easiest way to find out if you have a mixed credit report is to check your credit reports. Every U.S. citizen is entitled to access their three-bureau credit reports for free once every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Those who have already checked their reports for the year may want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring service — just be sure you pick one that provides you with a copy of your three-bureau credit report upon signup. While memberships to these services usually aren’t free, most come with free trials that allow you to test the service before you make a financial commitment. Visit our credit monitoring reviews to see some of the top options.

As you check your credit report, look for these signs which indicate that you may be affected by a mixed credit report:

  • Your name is very common (or you’re related to people with similar names, birthdays, addresses, etc.) and you spot credit accounts that aren’t yours or other personal information that doesn’t match your own.
  • Unfamiliar “aliases” with names similar to yours appear on your credit reports.
  • Addresses that you don’t recognize with cities somewhat resembling places you might have lived appear under your credit history.

If you’ve reported credit report errors and the bureaus keep rejecting the disputes, it may be another sign that your credit reports are mixed.

What should you do if you think your credit reports are mixed?

Those who believe their credit reports are mixed have some options:

1. Be proactive. When applying for loans and credit, make sure to fill out your complete name as it appears on your social security card or other legal forms. Be sure to use your complete first name, complete middle name, complete last name and generation titles (e.g., Jr., Sr., II). This will establish a baseline of consistency among your accounts (although it won’t completely guarantee error-free reports). If you haven’t done this with other creditors or lenders, you might want to update your files with them to include all of this information, as well as your exact date of birth.

2. Submit evidence of the overlap. You may want to send a letter to the credit bureaus highlighting content that doesn’t belong to you on your credit reports. You can include the extent of the information you know about the other person in your letter to indicate that you are distinct individuals who should have different files.

3. (If possible) work with the person whose file is mixed with yours. While this step isn’t always practical, especially if the mixed credit report is a result of identity theft, if you know the person whose credit reports are mixed with yours (e.g., a parent or sibling), you may want to team up with them to not only get these errors removed, but also make sure the problem doesn’t continue. For example, you’ll want to talk to them about being as detailed as possible on their credit and loan applications.

4. If the problem persists, file a complaint with a watchdog. Various non-profit watchdog organizations, as well as entities like the FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have a greater capacity to deal with long, persistent issues that would otherwise drain the resources of the average consumer. After you follow the formal complaint process for these organizations, they should follow up with the issue on your behalf.

How can you protect yourself from falling victim to mixed credit reports?

There’s really not much you can do to prevent this problem from happening because there are a number of ways for your credit report to be mixed. As such, the best way to reduce the likelihood of it having a huge impact on you if it happens is to monitor your credit reports as frequently as possible. If you are intimately familiar with the details of your accounts and credit history, you’ll be better equipped for articulating any erroneous changes that occur on your reports. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you’re using your full, legal name on credit applications, as well as making sure you thoroughly fill everything out.

While credit can be a daunting topic, it doesn’t have to be. Keep reading our credit monitoring blog to learn all about your credit reports and scores. If you’re considering a credit monitoring service to help you stay in the know with your credit, check out our reviews of the best credit monitoring services to find a service that fits your needs and budget.