40 Million Mistakes: Is your credit report accurate?

A government study indicates as many as 40 million consumers have a mistake on their credit report and Steve Kroft finds it's hard to get them fixed

The following script is from "40 Million Mistakes" which aired on Feb. 10, 2013 and was rebroadcast on Aug. 25, 2013. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. James Jacoby and Michael Karzis, producers.

Whether we like it or not, we live in an age where much of what goes on in our daily lives is monitored, collected and sold to interested parties -- our driving records, our medical history, our Internet traffic and, most importantly, our credit information.

A mistake on your credit report can cost you money. It can increase the interest you pay on loans, prevent you from getting a mortgage or buying a car, landing a job or getting a security clearance. Its not uncommon. And as we first reported in February, a government study indicated that as many as 40 million Americans have a mistake on their credit report. Twenty million have significant mistakes.

And our own investigation of the credit reporting industry shows that those mistakes can be nearly impossible to get removed from your record.


To access a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies, click here
For tips from The National Consumer Law Center on what to check in your credit report, click here
To file a credit reporting complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency that oversees the credit reporting industry, click here
To read more about credit reporting errors from a Columbus Dispatch investigation, click here


Consumer credit reporting is a four billion dollar a year industry dominated by three large companies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They keep files on 200 million Americans and traffic in our financial reputations. They make their money gathering information from people we do business with and selling it to banks, merchants, insurance companies, and employers and they use it to make judgments on our creditworthiness and reliability. But now the reliability of the industry is being questioned in an 8-year Federal Trade Commission. Jon Leibowitz is the chairman.

Jon Leibowitz: Here's what we found. Some pretty troubling information. One out of five Americans has an error on their credit report. And one out of 10 has an error on their credit report that might lower their credit score.

Steve Kroft: I'm trying to think of another industry where a 20 percent error rate would be acceptable. That's a pretty high error rate.

Jon Leibowitz: It's a pretty high error rate.

Mike DeWine: I think the more we look at this and the more the American people know about this, the madder they're going to get.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has opened his own investigation into the credit reporting industry which for years has blamed mistakes on banks and merchants that provide them with bad information. But DeWine argues that the fault lies with the industry for what he says are clear violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Steve Kroft: Do these companies have a legal responsibility to make sure that the information is accurate?

Mike DeWine: The federal law says that if you believe that there is a mistake, you can go to them and they have an obligation to do a reasonable investigation. They're not doing a reasonable investigation. They're not doing an investigation at all.

Every day, DeWine's office fields calls from desperate constituents who can't get the credit reporting agencies to answer their questions or correct mistakes on their report like paid bills listed as delinquent, closed accounts listed as open, and bad debts that belong to other people with similar names or social security numbers.

Mike DeWine: The problem is not that they make mistakes. It's they won't fix the mistakes. It literally is like this-- you know, guy behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz." You really don't know what he's doing. It really is a secret operation that is so hard to crack.

Eight million people a year file disputes about their credit report which usually requires a visit to the Experian, TransUnion or Equifax websites. They are primarily designed to sell you premium products, not resolve a dispute which was what I was trying to do. There's a toll-free number you can call which is likely to connect you to someone on a faraway continent.

[Kevin at credit reporting agency: Thank you for calling. My name is Kevin. How may I help you?

Steve Kroft: Where are you located?

Kevin at credit reporting agency: India.

Steve Kroft: India?]

But regardless of where they are or who you talk to, they won't be much help.

Steve Kroft: So, really, you can't do anything for me. I've just been talking to you for 15 minutes. I mean, the only thing you can do is to tell me to fill it out online.

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