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A weird (but true) case of Mistaken Identity


Marle
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Here's my story: My brother and I have similar names (almost spelt the same way) and we also share the same mailing address. Because of this, many businesses, including credit bureaus and creditors have been constantly getting us confused.

My problems with credit began in early 2003 when I opened a credit report from Equifax addressed to me, even though I didn’t order it. There was a ton of incorrect information, including a social security number that was off by a single digit. When I told my brother about it, he told me that he ordered a credit report from Equifax, but neither of us was sure if it was his or mine (This report had my name and birthdate with his social security number. This is when I discovered that our social security numbers are just as similar as our names!) After speaking to Equifax and ordering my own reports from all three bureaus, I found out that they all were reporting his information on my reports, and vice versa. It also seemed that Transunion and Equifax thought we were the same person!

My brother has been afraid and is unwilling to speak to any of the agencies or creditors to help me straighten out this problem, so I’ve been alone in this battle. It took a little over a year of correspondence to the credit bureaus and creditors to straighten everything out. This wasn’t the end of my problems, as I was foolish to believe. In November of 2005 I wanted to purchase a cell phone, but I couldn’t get one because I was denied credit. I ordered my reports the same day and I found that our information is being confused again by Transunion and Equifax!

Because of their negligence, the only credit card company that I have credit with decided to look at one of my reports and decreased my credit line without informing me. They didn’t even bother to consider the fact that I’ve always kept a low balance on their card, I’ve NEVER missed a payment, and I’ve had their card for almost 7 years! This particular action embarrassed me when I made an attempt to pay for classes at my university and I was denied. Also, with this company lowering my limit to my current balance, I have a feeling that my credit score is even more abysmal than before.

I’m sorry for this long rant on the forums but I am really upset about this whole ordeal and I don’t know if there is more I can do. I understand the mix up, but I really don’t want to deal with this for the rest of my life. What can I do to fix this mess and to ensure that this never happens again? I appreciate any information and help given.

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How similar is your SSN to your sibling?

What I would do right now is get a private mailbox and get EVERYTHING sent there. Private mailboxes are dirt cheap so you can easily afford one.

Conduct all your business from that private mailbox (don't get a post office box, get a private mailbox). Then start cleaning up this mess and get things straightened out.

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Thanks for the reply, Ravenous Wolf. Every digit is the same except the second to last. To illustrate, if my SSN was 123-45-6789, then his would be 123-45-6769. I didn’t think it was possible to have similar social security numbers to occur in a family, especially since I’m 4 years older than him.

I like the idea of a private mailbox, but I have a concern: My job requires customers to give a physical address when applying for service (it’s a policy used just in case someone has to be reported to a collection agency). I’m not sure about other businesses, but do you think getting a private box would keep creditors and agencies from confusing us both?

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A private mailbox is a real street address... An example would be:

123 Main Street, #456

You City, Your State, 12345

Unlike a post office box, everyone would know that it is a post office box. But a private mailbox would look like the above.

And almost every credit I had (except the ones that used the HAWK alert) thought it was a real street address. Even both mortgage companies I used. So there is no confusion in that.

And when you do get a private mailbox, then write to each CRA and have the old address removed. And be firm to insist that you never lived at your old address. That just puts another barrier to prevent further confusion.

It won't completely stop it but it puts you in the right path...

As for the SSN, that is crazy... But then again, weirdness usually comes all at one time instead of little pieces of it... :D

I have to admit that the SSN is way freaky...

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Educating yourself and understanding the system will go a long way to alleviating your frustration. Unfortunately, there is little you can do to prevent a merge with your brothers' file even if you manage to totally clean up your consumer file.

RavWolf (as usual) is right on target. The merge logic in all credit software starts with your identity and location, specifically your last name, zip code, then first name, then street address, then middle name/initial. So having a similar name to your brothers', having the same addresses in file, will always cause a problem EVEN IF YOU GET YOUR RAW CONSUMER FILES TOTALLY CLEANED UP. It's just the way the merge works. This typically happens with generations (Sr.-Jr.), but can also happen with people of the same/similar name in a zip code who are not related at all.

Rav's advice to change your mailing address is a good start. Removing old addresses that match your brothers will also help. Since we suspect that information never actually gets deleted, just shielded from view, don't expect that you can get this cleaned up and take a break. It's going to be something you get to deal with from now on. NP, just be proactive and take extra care with your reports. Check your reports 3-4 times a year. Have a copy of each bureau on hand any time you apply for credit in the future just in case there is a bad merge on some lenders' 3rd party report. And get insistent with the CRA's that they correct your raw files completely and KEEP them correct.

Lots of people deal with these issues. You can too, so don't get discouraged. Look at it this way...If you start suing over issues and irritations, you could make some nice $.

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Things get even weirder than that.

A few years ago, I lived in the same building as a woman with the same last name. Say I was Mary Smith and she was Sally Smith, I lived in Apt. 2A, she lived in 3B.

First I started getting her mail: Sally Smith, Apt. 3B. would come to me. Simple enough to just exchange mail. Then I started getting Mary Smith, Apt. 3B (my name, her apt. #) and Sally Smith, 2A (her name, my apt. #)

I moved out of that building about three years ago. Suddenly a few months ago, I get--on my email address, thisismary@email.com--an order confirmation from a shoe catalogue I'd never heard of. Upon closer inspection, I see the order is actually for Sally, at my old address, but her apt. #. Still, I'm getting emails at thisismary@email.com addressed to Sally, from organizations I don't belong to. Some of them decidedly opposite to my personal values.

I can see the snail mail mixup. But how my email address-which doesn't even bear our mutual last name--somehow got tied to this woman three years later, I can't imagine. It's not like she knew my email address and could have given it to these companies, or I was on their lists already (God forbid) and they mixed us up. Makes you wonder just how much information on you is out there, and who has it.

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Thanks for the info, guys.

I knew that when compiling a credit report the credit bureau's system merely looks for the closest match, not an exact match (a rep at Equifax told me this). That's disturbing. But I didn't know that there was a specific order that credit software uses. Very good info to know.

It seems that I was foolish to begin contacting the bureaus before changing my mailing address (I wish I would have found this place before I began correspondence). I did find a UPS store that may have the private mailbox service. It's a 25 minute walk away from my home and it's in a different zip code. Now before I talk to the bureaus again, should I wait until my address is changed? Also on a semi-related topic, I was reading a few articles about private mailboxes. I didn’t realize how much the post office hated them—they seem to really want the public to know if they are sending postal items to a private mailbox. http://www.postalwatch.org/pb22055_2001_07_26_cmra_deadline02.pdf

I don’t know if I could do it or not, but would applying for a new social security number help in the long run?

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