An old friend not only was a victim of credit fraud this past year but his family’s passports also were stolen just two weeks before a long-awaited vacation.

Stuart, 60, took all the right steps to report the fraud and notified the police, credit card companies, his local bank and the postmaster. Just when he felt he was back on track, he discovered some incorrect information on his credit report, dating back more than three years. He also had some repair work to do.

Credit fraud and credit repair, although not on the same level of loss and anxiety, are two separate challenges: report and repair. Don’t wait until you need a clean credit report to check it. Credit blemishes could delay your home loan or refinance.

If you are trying to repair your credit report and if have protested incorrect information on your credit report, check with your state’s consumer protection division or the state’s attorney general’s office if you are having difficulty.

In Washington State, a credit bureau has 30 business days to investigate any contested blemish on your credit report and then contact you with the findings. If the credit bureau cannot verify the delinquency in question, the delinquency must be removed.

The laws are in place to get creditors and reporting agencies to clean up their files and speed up processing. Many laws also require that the credit-reporting agency contact the creditor within five days to verify the debt.

Problems with credit reporting occur most frequently to consumers with extremely common last names — like Smith. For example, when a reader ("Miss Smith") applied for a mortgage several years ago, she received a credit report showing two delinquent payments to department stores.

The "30-day lates" were more than a decade earlier, and she determined that they occurred when she was moving into a new home. Smith wrote to the stores, explained what happened, and both companies told her they would remove the delinquent notices.

However, the letter from one store was never received by the credit bureau. Three years later, it happened again: The same delinquent notice showed up on her report when she was considering a refinance. Smith dug out the original letter, called the company and demanded the flaw be removed.

Credit reports are powerful vehicles. Jobs, homes, reputation and future credit often depend on them. When a lender obtains a credit score for a basic transaction, it usually contains information from three major bureaus.

There’s a difference between a credit agency and a credit bureau. Bureaus collect data from banks, court records, department stores, etc. Agencies research what is in the bureau and report the findings.

Here are phone numbers for the three major national bureaus: Trans Union, 800-888-4213; Equifax, 800-685-1111; and Experian, 800-682-7654.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows consumers to obtain all information in their file from each credit bureau. Requests must be made separately to each bureau.

If an incorrect item appears on a credit report, it’s up to the consumer to see that it is corrected. For example, I once had two mortgages with the same lender. Both payments were credited to one account, and I got a delinquency notice on the other. It took two letters and numerous phone calls to get the 30-day delinquency removed from my credit report.

Merely telling the agency is not enough. You should submit the explanation or proof in writing. Consumers sometimes don’t understand that a credit agency cannot remove anything from a credit report without the authorization of the company filing the delinquency.

So the consumer must contact the company that filed the delinquency. Delinquencies include tax liens, judgments and repossessions.

A company’s willingness to delete a past mistake or delinquency often depends on who answers your letter or call. Many credit reps have heard a variety of excuses and explanations (because people try to say their bad credit isn’t their fault) and are uncooperative. An innocent person can be looked on as a guilty party. The attitude seems to come with the territory.

If you have not been given a fair shake on your credit report, ask a real estate broker, local banker or an attorney about creative suggestions for a next step.

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