A reader asked an interesting question on my recent article about Experian or Equifax – which is best?:
I have recently signed up to Experian and Equifax. Experian’s is what I was expecting to see but Equifax’s has debts that I have no recollection of. I have taken this up with Equifax and all but two of the companies have responded by saying that the debt stands, please get in touch to discuss. Equifax say that they can’t remove anything from my report unless these companies give them permission to do so. How can I get these black marks removed from my file?
There are several possibilities about what could be happening here and it may take some digging from you to work out which is causing this problem. It’s not only your credit record that matters – if you don’t want hassle from debt collectors or even being taken to court, this needs to be sorted.
(If you have been phoned or written to by a debt collector about a debt you don’t recognise, you need to read Prove It!, not this article.)
If it was just one debt, you might have forgotten it, you may have an identity theft problem.
Sold to a debt collector?
One common reason for seeing a creditor’s name you don’t recognise is that the original lender has sold your debt to a debt collector, usually because you have defaulted on it.
The debt collector should have sent you a letter, but perhaps it went to a previous address, or it hasn’t yet been sent. If you can see a debt you know you owe and haven’t been paying, or perhaps you have been paying a low amount, and this shows as closed, with a balance of zero, this has probably been sold to the debt collector who is now reporting the debt. See Help! My debt has been sold to a debt collector for more about this.
Confused with another debtor?
You are less likely to have been confused with someone else if your name is Aristotle Pennyweather and you have lived in the same house for 30 years. If your name is Tom Walker and you have moved three times in the last five years it’s much more plausible. Here is a newspaper article (January 2016) about the problems a Joe Jones had.
So you should double check your credit records:
- Go through both your Experian and Equifax records line by line. is anything wrong? Apart from the unknown debts, is there any difference between them? Do both of them have all your old addresses correctly?
- Also get your Call Credit record and check that for anything odd.
Do those lenders only report to one credit reference agency?
The fact that your Experian record is clean but the debt shows on Equifax may reflect the fact that some lenders don’t report to all the credit reference agencies. There is a list here.
If the lenders of your mystery debts don’t report to Experian, then this explains the difference in the reports. It doesn’t explain what the mystery debts are, but at least it’s clear why they are only showing on Equifax.
But if the mystery lenders do report to Experian, then the question is why Equifax is linking these debts to your credit record but Experian isn’t… I suggest you email Equifax and ask them this specific question. And if you get to the point where you are complaining to the Information Commissioners Office about a creditor (see below) then you should also complain about Equifax.
Ask the creditors to Prove It!
You also need to contact the creditors directly, not through the credit reference agency.
- Write to the lender a Prove It! letter, saying that a debt has been reported by them to Equifax/Experian/Call Credit and you have no knowledge of it. I suggest you include more details about yourself – date of birth, your addresses for the last few years – you don’t have to do this, but it may help the creditor realise you are not their debtor. Give them a month to either provide you with details of the debt or delete the report from your credit record.
- If you still don’t recognise the debt from their reply, send them a formal letter of complaint. Put COMPLAINT in capital letters at the top of the letter or in the email title! Say that unless they delete the incorrect credit report you intend to complain to the Information Commissioners Office and the Financial Ombudsman
- If that doesn’t resolve the problem, complain to the Information Commissioners office. And if that doesn’t work, go to the Financial Ombudsman. (If you are desperate to get the problem resolved – perhaps you want to apply for a mortgage soon – then you could complain to both at the same time. But that is extra hassle and shouldn’t be needed as the ICO should resolve your problem.)
If all the mystery debts appear to be fairly recent – in the last year or so – then it would be sensible to consider the possibility of identity theft. You still need to contact the creditors and ask them to prove you owe the debts (see above), but also become a bit paranoid about identity – see if you are on any fraud databases and sign yourself up for Cifas protection.
Identity theft is possible for older debts but it’s just less likely as you would probably have found out about it. So if the mystery debts are old, then don’t assume it is identity theft check out the other possibilities first.