How can two people with the same name, but with different addresses and different Social Security numbers get mixed up like this? No one knows, but the scary thing is that it happens.
"The man's experience," Fernandez adds, "underlines what we tell people all the time: It's a good idea, every year or two, to spend $8 and send for a copy of their record--just to make sure that something like this hasn't happened. Of course, we don't make any money from this end of our business."
If it's simply a dispute between the consumer and a lender or vendor that has prompted a negative entry (and TRW has nothing to do with all this--it simply reports what the lender or vendor has passed along to it), then the consumer has the right to write a rebuttal letter (up to 100 words), which is attached to his file and is automatically made a part of it.
In your case, naturally, that wasn't going to cut it--an earlier charge-off is an immediate kiss of death as far as any credit grantor is concerned, and a letter from you disputing it wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on.
Happily, TRW, in short order, reported back to me that Wells Fargo has conceded that you're the wrong F.J. and has authorized them to strike the negative report off your record (TRW, naturally, can't take such an action on its own). And, I'm assured, that was done just a few hours before this was written. The whole procedure would have been easier if all of this had come to light two or three years ago, but you can't be faulted for this. Who thinks of such a thing happening to him?
Fernandez's own policy, she volunteers, is "to send for my credit report about three months before I know that I'm going to be applying for credit to make a major purchase of some kind. That way, if I find an error, I'll have time to set it right."
Ironically, the negative entry that has given you such woes would have been expunged from your record automatically this coming December anyway, even if you had welshed on the debt since the statute of limitations on a charge-off runs out after five years.
Anyone wanting to avoid the sort of surprise experienced by F.J. can sneak a look at his credit profile at any time:
Drop a line to TRW Information Services (505 City Parkway West, Orange, Calif. 92668). What the credit-reporting firm needs, in addition to $8, is your full name and Social Security number and your home address(es) for the past five years.
Don G. Campbell cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to consumer questions of general interest. Write to Consumer VIEWS, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.