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

Steve Kroft: What's going through your mind?

Judy Thomas: What the hell's she doing on my credit report? What the hell is her debt doing on my credit report?

Steve Kroft: You think this would be a fairly simple thing to get straightened out?

Judy Thomas: You would think. You would think.

Judy Thomas (in kitchen): This is my Judy Thomas versus Judith Kendall file.

Instead it became a six-year battle with credit agencies, requiring box loads of correspondence to try and prove that she was Judy Thomas, not Judith Kendall, all to no avail.

Steve Kroft: You got a lot of time invested in this. How important are these documents?

Judy Thomas: It's my life.

There are logs of daily phone calls to dispute centers, hundreds of letters to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, even correspondence from Judith's Kendall's creditors in Utah, acknowledging that the debts on her credit report aren't hers.

Judy Thomas: I would get letters back from these companies, saying, "This, in fact, is not you."

Steve Kroft: You still couldn't get it off your credit report?

Judy Thomas: No, I sent copies to the credit bureaus. And they would come back as mine, verified, verified. I also hired an-- a local attorney to try and straighten it out. We had everything certified that this is Judy Thomas. This is where I live. I've never gone by the name of Kendall. I've never even been to Utah, let alone owing a cable company in Utah.

Steve Kroft: And what happened?

Judy Thomas: Nothing.

Steve Kroft: Nothing?

Judy Thomas: Nothing.

Steve Kroft: What kind of problems did this cause for you?

Judy Thomas: I couldn't refinance. I couldn't take advantage of the interest rates. I couldn't get a new-- I couldn't get a car. I couldn't cosign for my children's student loans. And I'd worked hard for my credit. I was-- and these people were taking it away from me.

Finally Judy Thomas took the only recourse available to her. She sued Equifax and TransUnion in federal court. And after a year-long battle, the credit reporting agencies settled for an undisclosed sum and promised to clean up her file.

Steve Kroft: Did you think it was going to take a federal lawsuit?

Judy Thomas: Heck no. It just takes a human being going, "Wow, this isn't Judith Kendall. Let me fix this." That's all they had to do.

But as we discovered, that almost never happens.