CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports how difficult it is to get it back.
Four years ago someone stole Carol Mixon's identity and ruined her credit. She is a court reporter, working in Shreveport, La. The imposters were 500 miles away in Houston shopping on credit cards in her name. That was four years ago. Her credit is in shambles still.
When she applied for a mortgage the answer was: Forget it.
"This is the bank where I banked for 20 years," Mixon says.
"They told me, oh, the numbers just don't add up," she says, adding she really thinks it was her credit report.
Before the fraud, Carol and her husband Billy had a perfect credit history.
The Mixons did what fraud victims are supposed to do. And after two painstaking years writing all the right letters their credit was finally cleared - or so it seemed.
Just last spring as they prepared to build a new home, yet another mortgage fell through. Of the three leading agencies that track consumer credit, only Trans Union gave them a clean report. The other two, Equifax and Experian re-reported the old, fraudulent debt.
What Carol Mixon found was that even when you prove to the credit bureaus that someone stole your identity and rang up bad debt, there is no real delete button on the credit bureau computers. That bad information is still stored in your name.
None of the credit bureaus would comment on the Mixon case, because the Mixons are suing Equifax and Experian. But Trans Union agreed to demonstrate how their fraud investigations work.
In most cases, manager Diane Terry says if the consumer can document fraud, Trans Union will block the bogus charges from reappearing on a credit report.
"We do have a suppression function, and when we do confirm fraud, we do suppress that information," she says.
Experian and Equifax told CBS News the same, but Trans Union says that in some cases, fraud charges can resurface.
"It can happen although it's the exception," Terry says.
"They just don't give a damn," says Dave Szwak, who is Carol Mixon's lawyer. The credit bureaus could solve this problem but don't because correcting information costs too much money, he says.
When the credit bureaus say, "We're on this; we're all over it," Szwak says, "That's a joke."
"They don't make any money by saying good things about you. It's a negative information system. They score the negative," Szwak says.
What still makes the Mixons laugh is that every week they get offers for more credit cards addressed to the imposters.
So for the people who ran up the bad credit, credit is available while the Mixons' credit is no good.
"It makes you wonder how someone could be - what's the word besides stupid," says Billy Mixon
And their nightmare continues. Despite the fact the Mixons are suing the credit bureaus, their latest report from Experian still lists two fraudulent charges and warns creditors that the Mixons are a credit risk.
Experts say you can take these steps to help protect yourself from identity thieves:
- Don't carry your checkbook, extra credit cards or your Social Security number in your wallet or purse.
- Put ATM and credit card receipts in a safe place or destroy them.
- Shred preapproved credit card offers and all financial documents before discarding.
- Don't write your credit card number on your checks.
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