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People sometimes ask why I bother to check AnnualCreditReport.Com to get a report from each credit bureau once a year, since I haven't needed a loan in years. Here's why:

I pull a report from one bureau every four months. March was EquiFax's turn. TransUnion report in November had been fine, but right away this time I got worried. Two of the identity verification questions related to a student loan I supposedly had. I answered "none of the above" but was then told I could not get the report online. I would have to complete a form and mail it with two IDs, one including my SS number, to get the report by mail. I did that the next day, hours before leaving on a 3 week trip to warmer weather.

When I returned there was an envelope with my address but someone else's name on it waiting for me. Full credit report on this other person with my SS# but different address, job history, and many accounts. Review showed many of the accounts closed and the open ones current. He had two credit cards I have but the account numbers appeared to be different. At this point my heart is racing and I'm not thinking too clearly but I knew I needed help.

First problem was all the phone numbers EquiFax provided on the report led to menus with no option to talk to anyone and punching '0' repeatedly didn't work either. In desperation I tried a Google search for a number for a live person. It worked! Several numbers came up and one of them worked. The woman who answered patiently listened to my story and began trying to help me. Several times she put me on hold to research something. Finally she transferred me to another woman. Again I related my story. She asked lots of questions and eventually told me she had the documents I'd sent in to verify identity. It appeared they had somehow merged my account with this other person due to a 1 digit error in SS number input somewhere.

Eventually we were able to determine the two credit cards really were my accounts but listed without the last four digits. (Once I calmed down a little I saw that the account origination dates and credit limits were the same as mine. Then I realized the report only showed the first 12 digits of the account number.) Finally the woman said she thought she could get the my credit data seperated and she would call me back by the end of the day. I got her name and direct line before we ended the call. She called within 3 hours to say everything was fixed and a new credit report would be sent to me.

I'm waiting for the new report, but once I have it I will contact the other two bureaus just to be certain this really is only an EquiFax problem. I'm very thankful it wasn't identity theft. Also thankful EquiFax was so cooperative. I've heard many nightmares about people trying to get errors in their reports fixed. I spent more than an hour on the phone but that was nothing compared to what it would take to fix identity theft.

The moral of the story: Check all three of your credit reports every year. Even if you don't need to borrow money, your insurnace company uses them, potential employers use them, and who know who else. An undetected problem can cause you problems and cost you money.
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