Credit Report Wrongly Says Man Is Convicted Felon, Forces Him To Prove Innocence

How do you prove you didn’t commit a crime if your accuser won’t tell you which crime you’ve been accused of committing? That’s the problem facing a New Jersey who has spent months trying to convince a shady credit reporting company that he is not the criminal that is showing up in their records.

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column — penned by Consumerist’s newest contributor, Karin Price Mueller — has the story of a Navy vet who served three tours in Iraq, only to come home and find he couldn’t rent an apartment because the credit report folks can’t tell him from his brother.

Last spring, he tried to rent the apartment, but when the background/credit check came back, he was rejected — not for bad credit, but for a supposed criminal history.

“It stated that I was a felon and that was the reason for my denial,” the man tells Bamboozled about the report from Illinois-based Screening Reports.

It looks like the cause of the confusion is that while this non-criminal was serving overseas, his younger brother used the man’s name as an alias. That’s what was showing up in the records.

He wrote Screening Reports, then called them after not hearing back. He sent in copies of his driver’s license, birth certificate and other documents to prove he was who he said he was. Eventually he heard back from a manager.

“[She said] after a review of my file that there was in fact an error made on the company’s part and that the problem would be rectified and to call back a day later,” he tells Bamboozled.

But that was probably the high point of this process, as during his next call the manager told the man he would have to provide a court record showing that he was not a criminal.

The police told him they couldn’t print out a rap sheet for someone who’d never been in trouble with the law. So he called back Screening Reports.

“I said, ‘It’s your job to fix it. You’re the reporting agency. It’s not on the police,’” he recalls.

Complaints to the Better Business Bureau, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have gone nowhere, so he contacted Bamboozled.

Part of the confusion is not just that the man’s brother used his name during the five years the man was overseas, but that the two men share the same birthday, just in different years. So a lazy search will turn up the brother’s multiple misdemeanor and felony charges, but a thorough search would have shown they were not the same person.

A few hours after Bamboozled contact Screening Reports, which would not answer questions about the case or about consumers’ rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it was on the phone to the man. After some back and forth, things were right back where they had been weeks earlier, with the company demanding “a letter or some type of document from NJ courthouse that will clear your name of these charges.”

He wrote back pointing out that the FCRA gives credit reporting companies 30 days to investigate and correct, or remove, disputed information. He also asked where Screening Reports had gotten the criminal history.

“It’s wrong and I want to correct it directly with them, too,” he wrote.

But rather than answer his questions, the Screening Reports rep told him to contact police or an attorney for further assistance.

The FCRA places the burden of proof on the credit reporting company to show that its records are accurate, and gives him the right to know what information is contained in a credit reporting file. But since Screening Reports seems to need a refresher course on the law, Bamboozled has suggested that the man get a “good conduct” letter from the police to back up his claims.

If you ever need to dispute information on your credit report, here’s a handy one-sheet of information about your rights and which agencies to contact.